The first I knew I had been caught speeding coming out of Dublin last year was when Dee called me.
A Garda had knocked on the door of our house with a Court Summons – she was working from home that Tuesday.
He remarked that “you are never at home” as this was his fourth time calling!
Dee called me immediately as according to the summons I was due in Naas Courthouse the following Thursday week. Not only had I been caught doing 113 in a 100 stretch of the motorway leaving Dublin but I had also neglected to pay the resulting fine!
There was obviously an error as I had never even received the speeding fine.
I called the phone number for An Garda Síochána that was on the summons and as expected I was put through to some call centre.
I explained to the woman on the phone that I was more than happy to pay my fine but I had never received the notice so a court appearance should not be necessary.
“Do you not send a follow up reminder, like one would get with a phone bill or any other bill?” I asked her.
“No, we send one fine notice by regular post and if you don’t pay we automatically start a court process” she explained.
“This is totally crazy, how can you rely on regular post with something so serious? I pay my bills, I was one of the stupid idiots who actually paid their water charges! Who can I talk to?”
I was quickly given the usual “there is nothing I can do” line and was told to ring the court. I asked her if a lot of people ring with the same issue and she admitted it is a regular occurrence.
Change the stupid process maybe?!!
I tried calling the court phone number she gave me and failed miserably to get past their answering machine – I guessed that would have been another pointless round of “there is nothing I can do” so I gave up.
A quick call to my solicitor confirmed that this bullshit system is what it is and the best advice was to attend at 10:30 as indicated.
Brilliant…a trip to Naas on a busy workday is all I needed!
I changed around my week so that I could make my court date. I left Cork early for Naas on the Thursday. I hoped the whole thing would be done quickly so I could make a meeting in Dublin in the afternoon. I told my client I might be delayed and quite frankly I was embarrassed about the whole court thing so I didn’t mention why.
As expected the court was a hive of activity with every sort hanging around, with many huddled in corners chatting to their solicitors.
The court clerk directed me to the lists on the wall. I was number 51 on the list in Court 1. I asked her if there was any chance that I would be gone by lunchtime. She expected I would be.
I made my way into the packed courtroom and found myself a space to sit on one of the many wooden benches. There was a very mixed crowd in the room including a bunch of tough looking lads in tracksuits near the front of the court.
The Judge got into the flow of his day with breakneck speed processing case after case.
The names were called and as each person approached the bench he shouted “Hearing date” at them.
That was the prompt to admit to the charge in question or look for a case date. It was clear that 90% of the cases were speeding fines and he flew through them one after another.
59 in a 50 – “sorry Judge, I was on holidays and missed the deadline for paying” – case dismissed!
146 in a 120 – “guilty” – “that’s a 300 euro fine. You have 6 months to pay”
There was an interruption to the speeding fines to deal with one of the tough looking young lads that was in the court. It was hard to hear the conversation between the Judge and the barrister but it resulted in a hearing date and the young lad was led out of the court in handcuffs. It looked like he was quite used to this environment.
An older woman’s name was called and she shuffled to the top of the room on her bad legs “Hearing date” …”I have two already” was her response. She thought he said “hearing aid“. The whole court room giggled as well as the judge.
She received a fine.
Another poor old man who clearly needed a hearing aid tried to explain that he had paid his fine but it got lost in the post. “Case dismissed”
The man was told he didn’t have to pay his fine.
Was I missing something – why not pay the fine?
Eventually my name was called and I made my way to the top of the courtroom. “Hearing date?”
“I accept the speeding charge but I never received the fine, your honour” I explained.
“Do you want a hearing date?” he repeated.
I repeated what I said and he asked me again about a hearing date.
“I’m happy to pay a fine but I didn’t receive a notice”
The Judge looked at me and paused and asked carefully if I had taken legal advice and I explained that my advice was that I should attend. He gave me a look.
I was clearly missing something.
He offered to swear me into evidence at the end of the court sitting as a way to resolve this. I explained to him that I just needed to get to Dublin and was okay with paying a fine.
“150 euros fine” and then he said the strangest thing “did you ever hear the expression ‘never look a gift horse in the mouth’?”
Was he saying I could have got away without paying a fine – surely not?
As I walked out of the court, anxious to make my appointment in Dublin, a guy grabbed my arm and enlightened me.
“You just cost yourself extra penalty points. It’s all or nothing, he was giving you a way out!”
It’s all or nothing – the judge can’t insist on you paying a fine and waive the second part, which is the extra penalty for not paying. This stupid system is costing the country as the judge must dismiss the case and waive the speeding fine or else charge you in full!
Damn – I messed up.
While I was totally frustrated at this point I had to be happy with my decision to get out of there and make my client meeting.
This system is totally crazy – one fine by regular post that never reached me, no reminders, four house calls by a busy Garda, a court wasting valuable time and resources and I wasted a whole day including the cost of travel.
I guarantee 100% that if you drove through the M50 auto toll heading to Dublin airport and you did not pay your toll fee then they would track you down with notices, reminders and further notices.
The following day I read how the government agency, Tusla sent a written apology to the Garda whistleblower, Maurice McCabe because of their fiasco with the false sex accusations. Ironically the whistle blowing was about members of the Gardaí squashing speeding fines.
Their apology went to the wrong address!
There is a of time being wasted by An Garda Siochána and the courts because of really poor systems that results in ordinary folk being dragged unfairly to court on nonsense charges..come on!!
Greg Canty is a Partner of Fuzion Communications, a full service agencu that offers Marketing, PR and Graphic Design services from our offices in Dublin and Cork, Ireland