Gardaí issue substantial statement in response to fixed charge and drink driving controversy

See text to Statement from Gardaí

Express Reporter

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Express Reporter

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A breakdown of penalty point offences in Ireland

Issues Arising from Fixed Charge Notices
Q & A

Section 103 of the Road Traffic Act 1961, as amended provides that where a member of An Garda Síochána has reasonable grounds for believing that a fixed charge offence is being or has been committed by a person;

a) If the member identifies the person, the member shall serve, or cause to be served, personally or by post, on the person a notice under this section.

How many Fixed Charge Notices have been issued by An Garda Síochána since the system was first introduced in 2006?

An Garda Síochána has issued over 10.5 million Fixed Charge Notices since 2006.

Since when did it become an FCN offence not to have an NCT certificate?

Failure to have an NCT Certificate became a fixed charge offence on 8th December 2014 and from that date on, no summons should have issued for failing to have an NCT Certificate unless the driver had firstly been issued with a fixed charge notice, and the fixed charge had not been paid. 

When did this issue first come to light?

On the 6th February 2016, Garda Information Services Centre (GISC) became aware of an issue regarding the issuing of summonses for NCT and instructed their staff to cease creating summonses for the specific offence. An internal review commenced at GISC. In April 2016, a person appeared before court having previously been issued a summons for no NCT Certificate. It transpired that the person had already paid a Fixed Charge Notice. As a consequence An Garda Síochána commenced a preliminary review to establish how this had occurred.

What were the findings of the preliminary review?

An initial examination of records for the specific offence of ‘Not having a valid NCT Certificate’ identified 759 cases where a person had paid an FCN and that person was subsequently summonsed to court. This examination was then expanded to include all fixed charge offences issued since the rollout of the FCPS system. This identified a total of 1,130 cases where summonses had been issued for offences where the FCN had already been paid. 

What happened next?

A decision was made by Assistant Commissioner, Roads Policing and Major Event/Emergency Management, to conduct an extended review to establish if any other issues were arising in relation to the operation of the FCPS. This extended review was carried out in conjunction with Garda IT.

What did the extended review establish?

An examination of 830,687 summonses, issued between 1st January 2006 and 27th May 2016, identified a total of 146,865 summonses for persons who had committed offences brought before the courts incorrectly. This means the person was issued with the summons without being given an opportunity to pay an FCN.   

How many people have been impacted by the Garda error?

In relation to 146,865 summonses, 14,700 cases resulted in a penalty being imposed by the courts. An Garda Síochána has undertaken to appeal those outcomes to the Circuit Court.

The main offences relating to the 146,865 summonses are set out below:

OFFENCES
 
Offence Description                               Total
Non Display Of TAX Disc (Use)               68664
Non Display Of Insurance Disc                42462
Use Vehicle without NCT                          4511
Failing to Display ‘L’ Plates                       1000
Non Display Of Insurance Disc                  6782
Driving Without Reasonable Consideration   5939
Failing To Stop For Garda                          3658
Driving Past A Red Traffic Light                  1903
Holding a Mobile Phone While Driving.         1217
Sub total                                             136136
Other offences:                                      10729
Total                                                  146,865

An estimated 96% of the cases relate to persons that had multiple offences before the Court.  The remaining 4% (estimated at 5,860) summonses relate to persons who were not before the Court for any other offence.

What remedy was put in place to address the issue?
As of the 15th July, 2016, an IT solution has been designed and rolled out which prevents summonses being created in these circumstances.
 
What other actions are being taken to rectify the matter?
An Garda Síochána has spoken to the DPP and the Court Services about how to address cases where a penalty has been imposed. We will be bringing these matters before the courts and requesting that the convictions are set aside. A dedicated team has been set up and we are liaising with the Court services to expedite this process.
 
An Garda Síochána is also writing to all of the people affected and explaining what happened and how we propose to rectify the situation. Any fines imposed will be reimbursed and all records involved will be corrected. We have also put in place a dedicated support helpline for anyone who has any queries or questions.

What advice does An Garda Síochána have for people impacted by the error?
All persons involved do not have to take any corrective action until they hear from us.
 
This was an error in the manner by which we processed these cases. We have identified it and have put an IT update in place to ensure it is not repeated.  An Garda Síochána apologises to all of those people who were brought before the Courts without them being given an opportunity to pay a fixed charge notice. It is our mistake and we will rectify the matter.
  
TIMELINE OF EVENTS
 
·  On the 6th February 2016, Garda Information Services Centre (GISC) became aware of an issue regarding the issuing summons for NCT and instructed their staff to cease creating summons for the offence of not having a valid NCT Certificate.  Internal review begins at GISC.
 
· On 9th February 2016, GISC ceased creating summonses in respect of the offence of not having a valid NCT certificate.
 
· On the 26th April 2016, a summons was before Carrick-on-Shannon District Court where a person had been issued an FCN and paid it and a summons was subsequently issued (for the same incident) and was now before the Court in relation to the same offence [for not having a valid NCT Certificate]. A member brought this issue to the attention of GISC, which, in turn, brought it to the attention of Garda IT.
 
·  On the 16th May 2016, a meeting was held at the Garda National Traffic Bureau (GNTB), Garda Headquarters. A decision was taken to conduct a review of NCT offences and work begins to identify any summonses then before the Courts. Instructions were issued for all such summonses to be withdrawn.  A further instruction is also issued to have all cases, where no FCN had been issued, to have such cases withdrawn before the Court.
 
·         On the 10th June 2016, the Secretary General, Department of Justice & Equality was notified.
 
·         On the 10th June 2016, a Press Release is issued regarding the issue of NCT FCNs.
 
·         On the 30th June 2016, the issue of NCT / FCNs is discussed with the Policing Authority.
 
·         On the 4th July 2016, the advice of the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions is sought.
 
·         On the 12th July 2016, DPP advises that the matters outlined must be rectified and acknowledges that work on pre-2104 incidents was on-going.
 
·         On the 7th November, 2016 DPP formally advised in relation to the identified convictions and also advised a review of data 2006 – 2013 should be conducted .
 
·         On the 9th March 2017, an update report is provided to the Department of Justice & Equality.
 
·         On the same date, a report on the issue was provided to the Policing Authority.
 
·         On the 10th March 2017, the DPP advises that the cases identified as having been dealt with before the Courts and which have had a conviction recorded must be appealed to the Circuit Court. 
 
·         On the 21st March 2017, the matter of FCNs is raised with the Policing Authority and AGS advises that a total of 146,865 summonses (period of 2006-2016) have (now) been identified as having been issued incorrectly and that 14,700 Court outcomes have to be addressed, by way of an appeals process to the Circuit Court.
 
·         On the 23rd March 2017, a Press Conference is convened to advise the public of situation pertaining regarding Fixed Charge Notices and that the (14,700) convictions recorded are to be appealed by AGS to the Circuit Court. Persons affected will be written to by AGS. 
 
Issues in respect of Garda Roadside Breath Test Figures
Q & A:

What is the background to the breath tests issue?

Roadside Breath Tests are conducted to indicate the presence of alcohol in the breath. The power to conduct Roadside Breath Tests at Mandatory Alcohol Testing Checkpoints is provided for by Section 10, Road Traffic Act 2010, as amended.

A member of the Garda Síochána, who is on duty at a checkpoint, may stop any vehicle at the checkpoint and, without prejudice to any other conferred on him or her by statute or at common law, may require a person in charge of the vehicle—

to provide (by exhaling into an apparatus for indicating the presence of alcohol in the breath) a specimen of his or her breath;

The devices that we use are provided to An Garda Síochána by the Medical Bureau of Road Safety. The devices indicate the presence of alcohol in the breath.

Why was information withdrawn from the Garda website?

Following a review, An Garda Síochána decided to withdraw the data on the Garda Website relating to Roadside Breath Tests. The reason for this decision is that we have been provided with data by the Medical Bureau of Road Safety from their breath test device database and we have been unable to reconcile this with the figures displayed on the Garda Website.

Will any prosecutions or court outcomes be impacted as a result?

No prosecutions or Court outcomes will be impacted by this decision.

When were Gardaí first made aware of this issue?

An Garda Síochana were first made aware of the issue on the 24th April 2014 when it was brought to our attention through anonymous correspondence received at the RSA which was then sent to the Minister for Transport.

In 2015, a review of traffic equipment and PULSE related data was conducted in the Southern Region in 2015. The results of the Southern Region review indicated that there were significant discrepancies in our data and a full review of breath test data across the entire organisation commenced in 2016.

What did the review establish?

The 2016 review was unable to reconcile the PULSE data and our paper-based breath test data - primarily due to significant gaps in the manually recorded breath test data. In February 2017, the Medical Bureau of Road Safety provided data from their breath test screening devices. From this data we were able to quantify data from October/November 2011 (when all of the Drager Breath Test Machines were brought back into the Medical Bureau of Road Safety for recalibration/dual calibration). Based on the data provided by the Medical Bureau and compared to data recorded on the Garda Pulse system, we were able to verify that there was a significant deficit between the data recorded on the PULSE System for Roadside Breath tests versus the number of breath test recorded on the apparatus used by the Medical Bureau for Road Safety. The difference between the data is:

Garda Síochána Pulse Data: 1,995,369

Medical Bureau of Road Safety Date: 1,058,157

How can the discrepancy be explained?

There is no one single reason that accounts for the discrepancy. The data pertains to an era when we did not record the specific counter-readings nor did we identify the specific device used for each checkpoint, the instruction for which issued on April, 2016. Over that period, over 1,200 devices were in use across 108 Garda Districts with no central recording process.

What did An Garda Síochána do to address the problem?

In 2016, An Garda Síochána put in place a new paper-based recording and verification process. More significantly, in November 2016, a new specific data recording IT upgrade was installed on the Garda PULSE system.

The net effect of the new IT upgrade was that personnel now have to record the serial number of the device used for each breath test plus the meter reading before and after the checkpoint was concluded. Data from the device is now used to verify the total number of breath test conducted at each checkpoint.

Is the data relating to 2016 and 2017 reliable?

Data for 2016/2107, average over a 365 day period, suggest that the data we have recorded on PULSE for 2016 is accurate, based on the data available to AGS from the Medical Bureau for Road Safety.

While An Garda Síochána is satisfied at this stage that the new processes that we have put in place in 2016 are working and that the 2016 data is solid, we will not publish the data until we are satisfied that the processes are robust enough and consistent enough to stand up to scrutiny. While the 2016/2017 data is reassuring we will continue to closely monitor the data. If we are satisfied that the data is accurate and solid at the end of 2017, we will consider publishing data that we can verify.

What else is being done to ensure roadside breath-tests are accurate?

The Medical Bureau for Road Safety are currently in the process of procuring new breath testing equipment which will have the capacity to automatically record data in relation to breath test.  New equipment which is available in the marketplace has the capacity to record the time, GPS location, number of persons breath-tested and has the capacity to download the information automatically reducing the chances of errors occurring in the data.
 
TIMELINE OF EVENTS
 
What did we know? And how?
 
· Mandatory Alcohol Testing (MAT) at checkpoints was introduced in 2006.
 
·                In 2009 An Garda Síochána started recording MAT Checkpoints on PULSE.
 
·                The legislation currently governing MAT checkpoints is section 10, Road Traffic Act 2010.
 
·                New alcohol limits in respect of ‘specified’ drivers (Learners and Professional drivers, ie Taxi / HGV drivers) were created on the 28th October 2011. As a consequence all Medical Bureau of Road Safety screening devices had to be recalibrated. This was done during October and November 2011.
 
·                On the 11th April 2014 Mr. Leo Varadkar TD, (then) Minister for Transport, wrote to the Commissioner advising of [anonymous] correspondence received from Mr. Gay Byrne, Chairman of the Road Safety Authority containing allegations in relation to the manner in which MAT checkpoints were being performed (in the West of Ireland). The letter also contained allegations in respect of the lack of enforcement of road traffic legislation.
 
·                On the 24th April 2014 Assistant Commissioner, Western Region submitted a report in respect of Road Traffic enforcement in the Western Region. Assistant Commissioner Western Region further advised that the issues raised would be placed on the agenda for the next Regional Performance and Accountability Framework meeting.
 
·                On the 12th May 2014 a comprehensive report in respect of the issues raised was submitted to the Department of Justice & Equality. The report advised of the roles and responsibilities of An Garda Síochána; the Garda Roads Policing Strategy; a background to MAT checkpoints; Road Traffic enforcement in Western Region; and other issues in respect of general policing. Mr. Varadkar TD was advised that a comprehensive report had been submitted to Department of Justice & Equality.
 
·                On the 22nd August 2014, correspondence was received at the Garda National Traffic Bureau (GNTB) from the Medical Bureau of Road Safety in relation to the purchasing of consumables for the Drager (breath-testing) devices. (The Medical Bureau of Road Safety is responsible for the procurement, issue and maintenance of breath-testing devices for AGS).
 
·                On the 8th January 2015 (further to the correspondence from Mr. Leo Varadkar) a further report issued to the Department of Justice & Equality, advising that all Garda Reserves in the Western Region had been spoken to and it was not possible to identify the author of correspondence (to the Road Safety Authority) and, in the absence of further information becoming available, it was not possible to progress matter.
 
·                On the 7th March 2015 Assistant Commissioner, Traffic issued an instruction to all Divisional and District Officers to ensure mechanisms were put in place, if not already in place, to monitor the operation of MAT checkpoints within their respective Divisions & Districts.
 
·                On the 20th July 2015 Assistant Commissioner, Traffic directed Superintendent Brennan, Garda National Traffic Bureau to chair a Working Group to examine the recording of equipment and data on PULSE (traffic-related matters).
 
·                On the 11th November 2015 the Working Group submitted a report to Assistant Commissioner, Traffic, regarding the audit conducted in the Southern Region in respect of breath tests performed between 2009 and 2014. The audit identified a discrepancy of 17% between the number of breath-tests recorded on PULSE as having been conducted by AGS and the number of breath-tests recorded on the breath-testing devices.
 
·                Over a five-year period, from 1st November, 2011 to 31st October, 2016, data recorded on PULSE indicates that An Garda Síochána performed a total of 1,995,369 roadside breath-tests at 373,274 checkpoints.
 
·                On the 10th March 2017 the Medical Bureau of Road Safety provided data to An Garda Síochána regarding the recorded use of breath-testing devices for the same period (ie 1st November, 2011 to 31st October, 2016) on the basis of the information recorded from the devices issued. An analysis of that data indicates that 1,058,157 tests were recorded for the period under review.

 

Region   PULSE    Drager Data    % Difference

DMR     375,265     223,759           +68%
Eastern  292,149    153,221           +91%
Northern  201,122    99,137          +103%
Sth East  332,463   127,291          +153%
Southern  514,673    304,491           +69%
Western   289,697    170,776           +70%
Total     1,995,369  1,061,381*        +88%
* Slight variation between the date of this reading and previous reading supplied

 

It is advised that the amending legislation providing for ‘specified’ drivers, with reduced permitted levels of alcohol, came into effect in November, 2011.

What did we do?
 
·                On the 7th March 2015 Assistant Commissioner, Traffic issued an instruction to all Divisional and District Officers to ensure mechanisms were in place to monitor operation of MAT Checkpoints. 
  
·                On the 20th July 2015 Assistant Commissioner, Traffic directed Superintendent Brennan, Garda National Traffic Bureau to chair a Working Group to examine the recording of equipment and data on PULSE (traffic-related matters). 
  
·                On the 11th November 2015 the Working Group submitted a report to Assistant Commissioner, Traffic, regarding the audit conducted in the Southern Region in respect of breath tests performed between 2009 and 2014. The audit identified a discrepancy of 17% between the number of breath-tests recorded on PULSE as having been conducted by AGS and the number of breath-tests recorded on the breath-testing devices. 
  
·                On the 7th April 2016 new instruction issued in the form of a HQ Directive 23/16, entitled, Mandatory Alcohol Testing Checkpoints, Recording of Data. The instruction set out the procedures to be followed in respect of the completion of the MAT checkpoint Return Form and the recording on PULSE of the data pertaining to each MAT checkpoint. This was the first time we recorded the serial number and counter readings of screening devices on PULSE to verify the number of breath tests performed. 
  
·                On the 18th May 2016 an instruction issued to each Regional Assistant Commissioner in relation the governance of MAT checkpoints. Each Divisional Officer is now required to report the number of checkpoints, both scheduled and performed, and the reasons for any checkpoint being cancelled, at the Performance & Accountability Framework, chaired by the Regional Assistant Commissioner. 
  
·                On the 2nd June 2016, Assistant Commissioner, Traffic, directed a national audit in respect of MAT checkpoints and a ‘caveat’ was placed on Garda website in respect of figures provided (on the website) relating to breath-testing. 
  
·                On the 8th June 2016 a report was submitted to the Department of Justice & Equality, advising that an issue had been identified regarding figures recorded for breath-testing carried out by members of AGS. The report further advised that an audit of MAT checkpoints had been conducted and completed in respect of the Southern Region, which had raised concerns as to the reliability (... veracity / authenticity) of data available to An Garda Síochána in relation to breath tests conducted and that a national audit was being commenced. 
  
·                In June 2016 the RSA were advised verbally that a national audit was to be conducted in respect of MAT Checkpoints and the methodology for same. 
  
·                On the 1st July 2016 the methodology for the national audit was provided to each Divisional Officer. The Audit was to cover the period from the 1st January 2009 to the 30th June 2016. 
  
·                On the 2nd November 2016 a revised  HQ Directive 68/16 issued in relation to procedures to be followed in respect of the recording of MAT checkpoint data on PULSE (taking cognisance of a new PULSE IT Upgrade scheduled for 4th December 2016). 
  
·                On the 4th December 2016 an IT upgrade to the PULSE System created a number of new data fields. This included the recording of data in respect of screening devices and the counter readings before and after the MAT Checkpoint. 
·                On the 14th February 2017 the National audit was extended to cover the period from 1st July 2016 to the 31st December 2016. 
  
·                On the 24th February 2017 a sample of the data available in respect of screening device counter readings was received from the Medical Bureau of Road Safety. 
  
·                On the 28th February 2017 a meeting was held with Medical Bureau of Road Safety to identify if any additional data would be of assistance in respect of Audit being conducted. 
  
·                On the 8th March 2017 a request was submitted to the Medical Bureau of Road Safety seeking additional data in respect of Drager screening devices. 
  
·                On the 10th March 2017 additional data was received from the Medical Bureau of Road Safety. 
  
·                On the 21st March 2017 Policing Authority informed of the discrepancy in the data relating to breath tests. 
  
·                On the 23rd March 2017 AN Garda Síochána make public statement in respect of the discrepancy in the data relating to breath tests. 
Why did it happen? 
  
·                An Garda Síochána was not accurately recording the measurement from the breath testing device prior to April 2016. 
  
·                There was no correlation between the roadside breath test returns entered on PULSE and the paper based returns that were captured as part of the monthly device test. 
·                Paper records in respect of these monthly device tests were not being retained by An Garda Síochána. 
  
·                Scheduled MAT Checkpoints were created on PULSE in advance. The outcome of the checkpoint was recorded after the event, sometimes days afterwards. 
  
·                Because of inadequate record keeping the updating of the MAT Checkpoints was based on estimated rather than factual returns. 
  
·                The instruction issued in 2011 that the Garda Professional Standards Unit was to include MAT Checkpoints as part of their examinations was not fully implemented. 
  
·                Based on 2016 data less than 50% of scheduled MAT Checkpoints are performed due to a variety of reasons. 
  
·                As a result of PULSE release 6.9 the reason for the cancelation of a scheduled MAT Checkpoint is now recorded on each PULSE Incident.
 
Ref. No. 314/17