Legislation signed to close drink driving loophole

Legislative move after court ruled breath test statements should be in English and Irish

Emergency legislation has been signed into law to deal with a High Court decision that cast doubt over hundreds of drink-driving cases. Photograph: Thinkstock

Emergency legislation has been signed into law to deal with a High Court decision that cast doubt over hundreds of drink-driving cases. Photograph: Thinkstock

 

Emergency legislation, introduced to close a loophole in drink driving law, will have no impact on hundreds of drink driving cases currently before the courts.

The Department of Transport has confirmed the new law, signed on Tuesday by the Minister for Transport, will have no retrospective effect.

Drink driving cases, due to be heard at District Courts around the country on Tuesday, were adjourned, and it is likely that hundreds will be struck out.

On Monday, Mr Justice Seamus Noonan ruled that when gardaí perform an alcohol breath test in a garda station, the law requires they must provide a statement of results in Irish and English.

He made the ruling in the case of Mihai Avadenei (29), of Swords, Co Dublin,who was arrested for suspected drink driving in April 2014 and was not provided with a statement of his breath test results in Irish.

The Evidenzer Irl Breathalyser instrument, used in Garda stations and approved by the Medical Bureau of Road Safety, can provide statements in Irish or English, but requires operators to choose one language or the other.

Minister for Transport Paschal Donohoe said the advice of the Attorney General’s Office was sought in respect of the need for amending legislation on foot of the judgment.

“In the interests of road safety, I have moved immediately to provide the new legislation deemed necessary regarding the form of the statements to be provided under section 13 of the Road Traffic Act 2010.”

The Minister signed into law a statutory instrument (SI) which provides that the statements may be produced in either the English or the Irish language. It replaces the SI signed into law by former minister for transport Leo Varadkar, in October 2011, which required both languages. SIs do not need the approval of the Oireachtas to become law.

The new SI means the current mandatory alcohol testing regime can continue in its present form.

Last year, of the 8,477 drink driving cases prosecuted, approximately half were taken on the basis of Breathalyser test results only, while the remainder relied on blood or urine samples.

Professor Denis Cusack, director of the Medical Bureau of Road Safety, welcomed the Minister’s speedy response to the judgment.

He said the intention of the 2011 SI was to facilitate a driver having a statement in the language in which they were communicating with gardaí.

“If somebody was communicating as Gaeilge, clearly they were facilitated and the instrument would be able to produce it [A STATEMENT]as Gaeilge,” he said.

“Similarly, if they were communicating in English, they conducted their business through English.”

He said it was never the requirement to supply both languages up until the High Court judgment, when the question was asked.

“That is the first time that question has been dealt with by the courts,” he said.

“It is a very helpful clarification.”

A spokeswoman for the DPP’s office said they would not be making any comment on the pending drink driving cases.

And a garda spokesman said they were currently examining the High Court ruling.