Keeping us from our day in court

LAST week I received my first penalty points. I can’t have much of a complaint as I was doing 53mph in a 30mph zone. Not only that but I wasn’t able to tell the guard that it actually was a 30mph zone – I hadn’t noticed.

I’m not here to whinge about my personal woes. I paid up my €80 and that is that.

But I don’t like the system. I received a note telling me that I could pay the €80 or I could go to court where I would get four penalty points and a fine of up to €1,500.

This looks very much to me like the state is bribing (or intimidating) me to stop me getting my day in court. This makes the garda at the scene the judge, jury and executioner. So much for the separation of powers that is supposed to be the hallmark of democracy.

Courts, you see, are pesky things which seem to slow down the wheels of state retribution. All sorts of things like evidence and what the law actually says gets in the way of giving errent citizens their due comeuppence.

In my case, the guard used a radar gun which was able to tell that I was in error. I could have disputed the issue, demanded to see the calibration records for the gadget and asked for proof that I had been doing that speed and not a swooping hawk that passed in front of me just as the guard pointed his radar gun at me. (I’m using that argument the next time).

But being the sheep that I am, I took the easy course and paid over the dosh.

The authorities are so impressed with this courtless system of justice that they are thinking of extending it into other areas of the law. Like public order offences.

So when a gaurd comes across someone drunk in a public place, they will be able to give them a ticket on the spot. Then the guilty party will be threatened with the same lotto justice if they have the temerity to want to bring the case to court. So far, there has been a pretty muted response to this proposal.

I’ll put this simply: we are sleepwalking our way into a police state.

Not only is this changing the nature of justice but this is changing the nature of policing. It is putting more and more onus on the idea that your local cop is and a man or woman of integrity.

Happily in the majority of cases, that’s true. But there are plenty of examples where the conduct of individual gardai has fallen well short of integrity.

As a citizen of this republic I want to know that I have recourse to an impartial source of justice where my word is as good as the word of a paid state official and where he or she has the same burden of evidence as I have.

But the Government – this Government in particular – is busy devising schemes to turn us into serfs, where all our rights and liberties will be available at their descretion.

Gardai come from the general population. We all have predjudices, we all listen to petty tittle-tattle, we all have scores to settle, we are all imperfect.

That’s why we need courts in the first place. And the state is trying to intimidate us into giving up our right to be heard there.