Just over a quarter of motorists who should have appeared in court for using a mobile phone while driving have escaped court appearances because they were never served with summonses.
Some of the cases were dismissed because prosecuting gardaí failed to turn up in court. Others were dismissed because the wrong person had been prosecuted.
Of those who did appear before a judge, only half were convicted.
The figures were released to Independent TD Tommy Broughan by the Courts Service and cover the period January 2017 to May 2019.
Motorists were only summonsed to court if they failed to avail of two opportunities to pay a fixed-charge penalty for using a mobile phone while driving.
The data show that, of 13,846 alleged mobile phone offences due to be considered by a judge, as many as 3,553 (25.6%), were struck out because summonses were never served.
A total of 2,432 summonsed motorists were also able to avoid a court appearance by availing of what is known as the third payment option to pay their fine.
Dismay at conviction rate
The data shows that of the 7,862 remaining offences which did end up going before a judge, just 3,952 ended in a conviction. Road safety campaigners said they were dismayed by the 50.3% conviction rate.
In a letter to Mr Broughan last July, then Courts Service CEO Brendan Ryan said that the reasons why cases were dismissed could include:
- The failure of the prosecuting garda to attend court,
- The defendant providing evidence that proved they should not be convicted, or
- The judge wasn’t satisfied the case was proven.
Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan told Mr Broughan that failure to serve summonses could be due to:
- Inaccurate address information,
- People moving home,
- People living in multi-occupancy dwellings, or
- People taking steps to evade service.
Minister Flanagan said that the rate of non-service was “higher than I as minister or any agency engaged in road traffic enforcement would wish”. He said that he had received assurances from gardaí that work was being done to improve the service rate.
One in two
The average rate of conviction for mobile phone cases was roughly one in every two – though there were significant variations across the country.
The highest conviction rate was in Co Longford, where 71.9% of cases that went before a judge were successfully prosecuted. Just 19.7% of cases in Co Clare, however, ended with a conviction.