I am pleased to have this opportunity to introduce the Courts (No. 2) Bill 2016. I look forward to engaging with Members as we progress the Bill through the various Stages. The purpose of the Bill is to provide part of the legislative framework necessary for the introduction of what is termed “the third payment option” regarding road traffic offences in respect of which a fixed charge notice may be served under Part 3 of the Road Traffic Act 2010. This short Bill of just four sections is centred around the amendment, for technical reasons, of section 1 of the Courts (No. 3) Act 1986. It will allow for the integrated printing of a summons and the related fixed charge notice for serving on persons alleged to have committed certain road traffic offences. This will ensure that those who commit such offences can be brought fully to account.
In this respect, the Courts (No. 2) Bill 2016 is a joint initiative between the Tánaiste as Minister for Justice and Equality and the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport, Deputy Shane Ross. The intention would be that, when enacted, its reforming measures will be made operative by the Minister, Deputy Ross, through his commencement of section 44 of the Road Traffic Act 2010, that being the section which provides the legislative basis to bring these reforms into practical effect. This Courts (No. 2) Bill will, therefore, provide the legal nuts and bolts for the desired reform while section 44 of the Road Traffic Act 2010 will trigger that reform into operation. The designated date for this to happen, including having the relevant IT supports in place, is 1 June 2017.
The reform objective behind the very technical provisions of today’s Bill is to resolve an unintended legal loophole which has emerged over time. At present, under the Road Traffic Act 2002, a person who does not pay a fixed charge notice within the 56 days set down in law is served with a summons. At that point the person has no further payment option and must attend court. However, persons regularly appear in court and state that they did not receive the original fixed charge notice and many such cases are dismissed by the courts. In these cases neither the fixed charge nor the penalty points end up being applied. This can even happen in cases where a person might not be taking issue with the alleged infringement concerned.
As the law stands, a fixed charge notice offence affords two payment options before a summons is issued requiring a person to attend court, namely, a first period of 28 days during which the person may pay the fixed amount followed by a second consecutive period of 28 days, during which the person may pay the fixed amount plus 50%. The key objective now proposed under the Courts (No. 2) Bill is to provide the essential technical and administrative measures to enable the introduction of a third payment option, namely, the payment of the fixed amount plus 100%, while upholding any penalty points concerned without necessitating further court or Garda time. This third option will be made available up to seven days before the date on which an offender will otherwise have been summoned to appear before the court. If a person takes up this option, proceedings in respect of the alleged offence will be discontinued and the person need not attend court.
This is a short but highly technical Bill of four sections. It is important to note that the Bill, as passed by Dáil Éireann, contains some differences, principally related to drafting, compared with the Bill as initiated in December 2016.
These differences arise from Government amendments which were accepted on Committee Stage in the Dáil.
I will now endeavour to summarise the provisions of the Bill as passed by Dáil Éireann. Section 1 provides for the definition of the term “Act of 1986” as meaning the Courts (No. 3) Act 1986 being the Act which sets out in primary law the provisions relating to the issue of District Court summonses for offences.
Section 2 amends section 1 of the 1986 Act in the form of five amendments as set out in paragraphs (a) to (e), inclusive. The amendment of section 1 of the Act of 1986 is the primary purpose of the Bill. Section 1 of the Act of 1986 deals with the issue of summonses for offences as a mailer of administrative procedure. In 2004 the Act of 1986 was recast, principally for the purpose of allowing for the issue of a summons to be effected by transmitting it by electronic means to the person who had applied for it. This allowed for the issue of summonses electronically by the relevant court office, in addition to the issue of summonses manually. The introduction of the “third payment option” requires not only the issue of summonses by electronic means but also the creation of the summons document in an automatic manner. The drafting approach to achieve this objective has undergone a revision by the Office of the Attorney General since the Bill was published in December last year. The original drafting approach adopted in the Bill, as initiated, sought to integrate the new method for the creation of a summons in an automatic manner with existing provisions of the Act of 1986, particularly those relating to the notion of an original summons document and true copy summons. However, in the new automated system there is no longer considered to be a need for a physical original in circumstances where both the original and the copy are created from the same source data and on foot of an automated process. This changed drafting approach is incorporated into the Bill as passed by Dáil Éireann.
Paragraph (a) adds a new section 1(2A) to the Act of 1986 which provides that the issue of a summons by electronic means in accordance with section 1(2) of the Act of 1986 shall be deemed to have been effected where the appropriate court office transmits by electronic means all of the information necessary to create the summons in an automatic manner. Under this provision the creation of the summons occurs when it is printed on paper in legible form by electronic means. Paragraph (b) adds a new section 1(4A) to the Act of 1986 in a way which is intended to allow for the automated processing of batches of summonses or applications for summonses. Paragraph (c) adds a new section 1(8A) to the Act of 1986 which provides that references in other enactments to an original summons or a true copy of a summons shall be construed as references to the summons as created - this is printed on paper - under the new system. Paragraph (d) substitutes section 1(9) of the Act of 1986. This is essentially a restatement of the existing provision with the substitution of a presuming clause for the deeming clause which is in the Act of 1986. However, the legislative effect is intended to be essentially the same. Paragraph (e) adds a new section 1(9A) to the Act of 1986 which provides for a presumption that the summons created under the new subsection (2A) is created on the basis of the information transmitted by the relevant court office.
Section 3 makes specific provision for a summons to be issued in circumstances where the person who is alleged to have committed a specified road traffic offence is a member of An Garda Síochána. Section 88(3) of the Courts of Justice Act 1924 and the relevant District Court rules include a provision that a summons against a person who is a member of An Garda Síochána shall be signed by a judge. This latter procedure cannot be accommodated in the proposed new streamlined arrangements for the creation of a summons in an automatic manner. Accordingly, section 3 provides for an exception to be made from the general rule requiring signature by a judge.
The Bill, as initiated, had also included an offence in relation to which a fixed penalty notice would be served under section 29 of the Road Traffic Act 2010. However, a Government amendment, accepted on Committee Stage in the Dáil, deleted this element as it was not directly linked with the third payment option. The issue can be revisited as part of a wider review of the summons process under which it is a more logical fit. Section 4 deals with the Short Title; the collective citation of the Bill and its construction with the Courts (Supplemental Provisions) Acts; and its commencement by means of ministerial order. I commend the Bill to the House as a means of closing an undesirable loophole in the application of the Road Traffic Acts. It has the potential, if brought to enactment, to increase payment on foot of the relevant fixed charge notices, to ensure the application of the relevant penalty points and to keep down the number of cases that would otherwise take up valuable court and Garda time. It will provide a further means of ensuring those who commit such offences on the roads can be brought fully to account.