The Garda fixed charge processing office should no longer refuse to accept fixed charge payments due to minor omissions on fixed charge notices. A High Court ruling has found that the Gardaí are not entitled to refuse to process payments in such cases, which is good news for motorists who could otherwise face conviction, higher penalty points and court fines.
Over the past year we have been consulted by a number of clients who have faced this problem. The most common example is where the motorist failed to include their second forename when filling out the fixed charge notice. Some of those clients were served with court summonses which, for one reason or another, were withdrawn and did not result in a conviction.
Some contacted us in dismay when their attempt to pay the fixed charge was rejected on the basis that “The Name written on Notice is different to that on the Driving Licence record.” The rejection notice does not explain how the name differs and what must be done to rectify it (ie. the failure to include a second forename when that is stated on the driving licence).
It is ridiculous and unfair to the motorist for an attempted payment to be rejected in such a situation. Where a motorist has provided their forename and surname and their driving licence number there can be no confusion as to identity. But the consequence for the motorist is serious: if they do not or cannot re-submit the payment within the statutory timeframe a court summons issues which can lead to a conviction and, in the case of a speeding offence for example, 5 penalty points (as opposed to 3 on successful payment of the fixed charge). It may also mean that some other rejections by the FCPO are incorrect.
The problem arose due to a extraordinarily strict interpretation of the rules by the FCPO. The High Court has recently ruled that Gardaí were not correct in this interpretation when rejecting a payment in such a situation. The decision will prevent unnecessary prosecutions of motorists who attempt to pay their fixed charge and provide adequate details on the fixed charge notice. It provides a defence to anyone currently being prosecuted in such circumstances.
It remains to be seen whether the Government will move to amend the rules so that the stricter interpretation will apply and motorists would again be prosecuted for failing to include their second forename on a fixed charge notice. In the meantime, care should always be taken in completing any fixed charge notice to ensure that it is not rejected and in the case of doubt advice should be sought from a solicitor with experience of road traffic offences.