Figures and facts: How an Irish Times article set off a controversy over drink-driving convictions

On October 19th, 2015, the newspaper reported more than half of people detected drink-driving by gardaí were not convicted

President of the District Court Judge Rosemary Horgan: very concerning “if public confidence in the justice system is undermined through any inaccurate or unbalanced reporting or editorial comment”. Photograph: Alan Betson

President of the District Court Judge Rosemary Horgan: very concerning “if public confidence in the justice system is undermined through any inaccurate or unbalanced reporting or editorial comment”. Photograph: Alan Betson

 

On October 19th, 2015, based on Courts Service data supplied to Tommy Broughan TD, The Irish Times carried an article stating more than half of people detected drink-driving by gardaí were not convicted.

The article put the conviction rate at 40 per cent between January 2013 and May 2015. The following week, the Courts Service strongly rejected the figures, saying it had established the conviction rate at between 85 and 88 per cent.

The figures were based only on cases that were seen through to completion, and ignored those that were struck out or that involved summonses never served.

Courts Service

In the Dáil in November, then minister for transport Paschal Donohoe criticised the 40 per cent figure as given by The Irish Times and fully endorsed the figure produced by the Courts Service.

“The reality is that approximately 86 per cent of drink-driving cases which go to court result in convictions,” said Mr Donohoe.

Also in November 2015, president of the District Court Judge Rosemary Horgan criticised The Irish Times. She said it was very concerning “if public confidence in the justice system is undermined through any inaccurate or unbalanced reporting or editorial comment”.

In January 2016, District Court Judge Elizabeth McGrath said it was concerning that despite the Courts Service “clarification” that the conviction rate was 88 per cent, the 40 per cent figure “was put out there in the first instance”.

Road safety

She suggested because of it, some drivers might consider getting back behind the wheel of a car with alcohol taken, thus undermining road safety.

On December 11th, 2017, based on Courts Service data supplied to Mr Broughan, RTÉ Investigates reported 48 per cent of drink-driving cases that came before District Courts in 2016 resulted in a conviction.

The figures varied depending on which court dealt with the case. In Westmeath, according to the programme, 85 per cent of drink-driving prosecutions were successful, while in Co Waterford just 34 per cent ended in conviction.