Garda fails to halt inquiry into crash in which he wrote off vehicle
Det Sgt Joseph Higgins acquitted of failing to report crash on N2 at 2am on June 15th, 2012
Det Sgt Joseph Higgins, stationed at the Special Detective Unit in Dublin, suffered a brain injury as a result of the crash. Photograph: Collins Dublin
A Garda detective sergeant has lost his appeal aimed at halting a disciplinary inquiry over a crash in which the official vehicle he was driving while on duty was written off.
He has made a full recovery since, the Court of Appeal noted.
Following an investigation by the Garda Traffic Unit, it was confirmed the vehicle had rolled onto its side, impacted heavily with the central median barrier and was written off as beyond repair.
Det Sgt Higgins was later charged with failing to report the crash and failing to keep the vehicle at the place of its occurrence. He denied the charges and provided medical evidence to the effect he suffered a brain injury which affected his judgment and he was not in full command of his facilities at the time.
He was acquitted by the District Court but was later informed a separate disciplinary investigation under Garda Regulations of 2007, which had been initiated in 2013 but put on hold pending the District Court case, was proceeding.
He was informed the investigating superintendent wanted to interview him in relation to one allegation – failing to secure official property in the vehicle. He sought judicial review but the High Court dismissed his challenge in March 2016.
In his appeal, the core claim was that a disciplinary inquiry, in light of his acquittal, was oppressive and in breach of Article 8 of the 2007 regulations.
Giving the Court of Appeal’s judgment, Mr Justice Gerard Hogan, with whom the court president Mr Justice Sean Ryan and Mr Justice Michael Peart agreed, said Article 8 contains an objective prohibition on disciplinary proceedings provided two conditions are satisfied.
The member affected must show the disciplinary matter involves (1) inquiring into the same issues of which they were acquitted and (2) it would be unfair and oppressive to continue the inquiry in those circumstances.
The view of the Garda authorities whether both conditions were satisfied was not final because that assessment was ultimately for the court to make, he said.
He ruled the proposed investigation would not breach the first part of the test because the charges of which Det Sgt Higgins was acquitted did not include a charge of failing to secure the vehicle, thus ensuring public property belonging to the employer within it was not stolen or compromised.
Depending on the assessment of such evidence, the Garda authorities may discontinue any such investigation if they concluded it would be oppressive to continue it, the judge stressed. On those and other grounds, he dismissed the appeal.