District Court to be reformed following drink-drinking conviction revelations

Minister for Justice Charlie Flanagan has said he intends to change the way the District Court works so that the public can have greater confidence in its operation. He said he was keen to reform the court given it was the court of first instance for most, and dealt with matters relating to hundreds of thousands of citizens a year.

Mr Flanagan was responding in the Dáil yesterday to an RTÉ Investigates programme which highlighted examples of donations to the court poor box being applied in lieu of convictions in the cases of defendants charged with offences such as dangerous driving.

The programme also revealed that only 48 per cent of those driving with excess alcohol coming before a court were convicted.

“I take very seriously the outcome of the RTÉ programme last night, and I will advise the House accordingly in the new year of the options available to me in terms of the review,” said Mr Flanagan.

He was very concerned about the “inconsistent’’ operation of the court poor box. He wanted to recognise the separation of powers, and that sentencing was exclusively a matter for the courts and the judiciary.

The Minister said he had recently met the president of the District Court, Judge Rosemary Horgan, and Attorney General Séamus Woulfe. He acknowledged that there were certain pressures on the District Court system which, by and large, had remained unreformed since the 1920s.

Bail laws

Mr Flanagan said the recent Criminal Justice Act 2017 had broadened the factors the court was required to take into account when granting bail. If the legislation did not deal with the issue in the manner intended, the bail laws would be reviewed.

He said he had discussed the consolidation of road traffic legislation with Minister for Transport Shane Ross yesterday morning. He said Mr Ross’s department and the Department of Justice would “sit down at a very early date in order to ensure that, over the course of the next few months, we set about a long-awaited consolidation of the road traffic legislation’’.

He said the legislation went back to the 1960s and even prior to that.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin said the number of people being murdered and killed by people out on bail was growing alarmingly. “There is a fundamental malaise at the heart of the system.’’

Sinn Féin justice spokesman Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire said the RTÉ programme had highlighted the inconsistencies and discrepancies in judges’ decisions on sentences.

Convictions

Fine Gael TD Fergus O’Dowd said the revelations relating to convictions for driving with excess alcohol in the programme were quite shocking. He was speaking during the resumed debate on the Road Traffic (Amendment) Bill which provides for a mandatory ban for all motorists driving over the alcohol limit.

Mr O’Dowd said in the past year 382,000 criminal offences, 134,000 civil cases and 36,000 family law cases had been brought before the courts. The courts also had to deal with some 60,000 fines, while a total of 284 District Court orders were made. “A huge volume of work is going through our Courts Service.”

3 Responses to District Court to be reformed following drink-drinking conviction revelations

  1. patrick joseph mc December 13, 2017 at 5:45 pm #

    There are two Supreme Court Rulings by Judge O Flaherty ignored by the courts and society on technicalities and another on the public place where common sense is to be used ,The word Drunken Driving should be replaced by Intoxicated Driving . All suspects should be medically examined as many due to intoxicant abuse are a danger due to health damage due to abuse whether under or over limits,and appear in custody before the courts and their licence suspended with option to apply for a permit to drive until the case is disposed of and the applicant having to satisfy the court they are no danger on the road . One would soon see a huge difference , While I never worked in a traffic dept , I have seen thousands of intoxicated drivers and many exceeded W>H>O limits for death. I noticed if the drivers were kept in custody until the court they were non drinkers when the case came for hearing. I also noted that in many cases people with highest alcohol readings were dead when the case came for hearing and not from a road traffic incident .With gated complexes it is virtually impossible to serve summonses and reg post is not a cure for the problem. One particular case I encountered landed in the District Circuit and High Court which held with Garda who used Irish and English in the process , Their point was that this man was so intoxicated as he actually exceeded W>H>O limit for death there was a greater obligation on the garda to show his rights were not infringed . It shows the mindset that has to be changed .Simple solutions do not work and it takes time to get things right as the paper work is the biggest draw on resources

  2. Eugene December 15, 2017 at 1:26 pm #

    I think that Patrick Joseph wants to go a little too far by remanding people over the limit in custody. Drink Driving is only a Road Traffic Offence. I do know that they are defended vigorously in court, often it appears that the prosecuting Garda is on trial. Every little detail is scrutinised and sometimes is goes beyond the rediculious.Many cases take far tooling to come to court, charges should be preferred on the spot and the case despised of within two or three weeks. If you are over the limit, well that’s it, take the punishment. No checking of townlands, streets etc. But the legislators knew what they were doing when they made the laws. Anyway, all these laws need to be brought into the 21st Century, no point in relying on 1963 and so on.

  3. timothy December 30, 2017 at 7:35 pm #

    Drunk drivers well over the legal limit getting off on a technicality doesn’t serve the system well and leaves law abiding citizens aghast.

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