Court rules judge was not justified in dismissing drink-driving charge


A high Court judge yesterday ruled a District Court judge was not justified in law in dismissing a drink-driving charge against a Co Limerick man.

Mr Justice Kelly upheld an appeal by the DPP against a decision of Judge John O'Neill to dismiss a charge of drink-driving against Mr Liam Sheehan, of Kyle, Bruff, Co Limerick. He remitted the case to the District Court.

On June 5th last year, at a sitting of Bruff District Court, Mr Sheehan appeared before Judge O'Neill on a charge of drink-driving at Kilballyowen, Bruff, on December 9th, 1996.

Mr Justice Kelly said that during the hearing a garda had given evidence that at 12.20 p.m. on December 9th, 1996, he had stopped a car driven by Mr Sheehan. The garda said Mr Sheehan had admitted having drunk four pints and an alcolyser test had proved positive. He was arrested for drink-driving.

The judge said that, under cross-examination, the garda was asked how he knew that the place where he had stopped Mr Sheehan was Kilballyowen. A photocopied map was given to the garda and the defence solicitor had put it to the garda that the map showed that Mr Sheehan was stopped at Baggotstown, a short distance away.

The prosecuting garda had said he could not understand the map in photocopied form. The prosecution had asked for an opportunity to consider the map.

Mr Justice Kelly said Mr Sheehan had said he was stopped by the garda about 15 feet before the junction where the garda said he had stopped him, but the garda had stood over evidence of stopping Mr Sheehan at the junction.

Mr Justice Kelly said Judge O'Neill had dismissed the charge on the grounds that he had a substantial doubt as to whether the place where the alleged offence occurred was Kilballyowen or Baggotstown. The judge had asked the High Court's opinion on whether he was correct in his decision.

Mr Justice Kelly said Rule 88 of the District Courts' outline powers available to a district judge to amend a summons, and there were High Court decisions regarding how that power of amendment should be exercised.

These provided that a dismissal of a case on merit was not justified unless there was a possibility of injustice not capable of being remedied by an adjournment of the case or an amendment of the summons.

He said the procedure followed by the district judge in the case of Mr Sheehan was not justified in law.