Police officer prosecution for speeding on duty 'just ridiculous'
Police officers are being referred for prosecution by the PSNI for speeding at work in recent months - despite legislation that protects them while performing their duties, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.
In at least two cases the officers involved opted not to accept penalty points, and fought their cases in court.
Both were acquitted and the charges against them were dismissed.
The officers were detected breaking the speed limit by static traffic cameras in vans operated by the PSNI while driving their police vehicles.
It is understood that in one case an officer was prosecuted for travelling just over the 30mph speed limit.
Hundreds of PSNI members in specialised units are required to demonstrate as part of their contract of employment that they can drive in excess of 100mph on public roads.
And emergency service personnel are legally protected for speeding in the course of their duty by the Road Traffic Regulation (Northern Ireland) Order 1997.
It states that no speed limit applies to vehicles being used by police and other emergency services, as well as the military and customs, while they are on duty.
SDLP MLA Daniel McCrossan branded the situation a "total waste of vital public money and resources" and an "example of bureaucracy gone mad".
He said: "This is a ridiculous situation. The PSNI have a duty to protect life and prevent crime, and it's entirely understandable that they need to get to a certain area quickly and sometimes they need to exceed the speed limit by quite a bit.
"I'm sure no officer is exceeding the speed limit unnecessarily and they are entirely justified in trying to get to the scene of a crime or other emergency.
"It's utterly ridiculous that the PPS are deciding to use public money and Court Service resources to penalise officers doing their duty.
"Any reasonable judge will know that police officers have a duty to protect life and ensure public safety.
"Are we now going to have fire engine and ambulance drivers fined for exceeding the speed limits when they are trying to save lives?"
Solicitor Michael May, who was retained by the Police Federation to represent the two officers who contested the charges, said: "Any police officer would find it very stressful to find themselves under criminal investigation and facing charges that could put them on the wrong side of the law.
"The officers were driving police vehicles and were detected by speed cameras which automatically issued the tickets.
"The PSNI determine who was driving the vehicle and the officer gets the chance to say why they were speeding.
"If that isn't accepted then the officer could get three penalty points on their own driving licence and their personal insurance takes a hit, or they could go to court.
"In the two cases I have been involved in, the officers refused the penalty points and the PPS did make the call to prosecute.
"The speeds that the officers were doing were not too far over the limit.
"The officers successfully used the standard defence that they were speeding in the execution of their duties. Ultimately it is for the PPS to decide whether to prosecute."
The PPS confirmed that it had received a "small number" of files from the PSNI recently in relation to officers speeding while on duty.
"This is potentially a criminal offence unless the officer can establish by evidence that on the occasion in question the vehicle was being used for a police purpose and that compliance with the speed limit would be likely to hinder that purpose on that occasion," a statement said.
"While it would be inappropriate to comment on the specifics of any case which has gone through due process, I can say that we carefully consider all of the available evidence in every case, applying the test for prosecution in line with the code for prosecutors."
The Police Federation confirmed that it was offering legal assistance to a "very small number" of officers who had been prosecuted for speeding.
The PSNI said it would respond on the basis of a Freedom of Information request.