Minister seeks to repair loophole in law on hit-and-runs

AG’s advice is that intention of law is clear despite the error, says Donohoe

An amendment will be needed to correct an “implicit contradiction” in legislation, introduced by section 17 of the Road Traffic Act 2014, Minister for Transport Paschal Donohoe told Seanad. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

An amendment will be needed to correct an “implicit contradiction” in legislation, introduced by section 17 of the Road Traffic Act 2014, Minister for Transport Paschal Donohoe told Seanad. Photograph: Dara Mac Donaill

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Another loophole in road traffic legislation, this time in a law dealing with hit-and-runs, will have to be repaired, it has emerged.

Minister for Transport Paschal Donohoe has said that, on the advice of the Attorney General, an amendment will be needed to correct an “implicit contradiction” in legislation, introduced by section 17 of the Road Traffic Act 2014.

The repairing amendment has been inserted in the Public Transport Bill 2015, originally drafted to deal only with public transport matters.

Section 17, itself an amendment of the Road Traffic Act 1961, was drafted to make leaving the scene of a hit-and-run, where a person has been injured or killed, an indictable offence to be tried before a judge and jury.

The offence incurs a sentence of up to 10 years and a fine of up to €20,000.

But the section was inserted into section 106 of the Road Traffic Act 1961, under a heading referring to “summary offences”, which are offences dealt with at District Court and heard by a judge only.

This created an “implicit contradiction” in the law.

Section 17 also accidentally omitted an amendment to disqualify from driving, for at least a year, those convicted of leaving the scene. This will also be included in the repair, Mr Donohoe told the Seanad, in a speech on the Public Transport Bill.

Clear intention

He said the advice of Attorney General Máire Whelan was that the intention of the law was clear, in spite of the error, and that the DPP was continuing to take prosecutions under this legislation.

“However, it is also the Attorney General’s view that the error should be corrected at the earliest available opportunity.”

This is not the first time errors have been found in the 2014 Act.

In December 2014, emergency legislation was passed to close two other loopholes in the Act related to penalty points. And emergency legislation was introduced last year to deal with a loophole in regulations under section 13 of the Road Traffic Act 2010, related to drink-driving.

Aoife Corridan of Michael Staines & Company Solicitors said there had been innumerable amendments, insertions and deletions to road traffic legislation since 1961.

“Practitioners face a constant challenge in keeping updated with the latest legislation,” she said.

Act commences

When checking legislation, practitioners must be aware that not all sections of every new piece of legislation are commenced immediately. The Act is often not commenced as a whole, and in some cases, the Act or parts of it may not be commenced at all.

“It further complicates matters when amendments to Road Traffic Acts are placed in other legislation, such as the Public Transport Bill 2015,” Ms Corridan said.

A consolidated Act, in which all of the legislation would be brought together in a single law, was long overdue, she added.

Her concerns were echoed by Susan Gray, chairwoman of road safety group Parc, who said there was an urgent need to consolidate the legislation.

She said there had been 15 Road Traffic Acts since the last consolidation in 1961 and amendments “too numerous to mention since”, which have led to “serious loopholes”.

Ms Gray also queried why the repairing amendment was included in legislation on public transport.

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