Tipperary judge says some drink driving cases ‘predestined to fail’

System means least law abiding citizen has advantage, District Court judge says


There are occasions when prosecutions for drink driving cases are “predestined to fail”, a Tipperary judge has said.

District Court judge Elizabeth McGrath said it did not sit well with her that “a system has developed where the least law abiding citizen garners an advantage”.

“It does not sit well with me that there are occasions when prosecutions are predestined to fail and indeed, that can arise quite frequently in drunken driving cases,” she said.

Judge McGrath also said it did not sit well that having imposed a sentence, “the deficiencies of the system eradicate the judicial decision”.

She said “these matters and others” have the potential to undermine the integrity of the judicial system “particularly where it is a universally accepted fact that an independent judiciary is an essential bulwark in a democratic society and where that potential to so undermine can only be to the detriment of the public interest”.

Difficulties do arise in drink driving prosecutions Judge McGrath told RTÉ Radio’s Morning Ireland programme.

Quoting from Drunk Driving, a legal text by David Staunton BL, she said unlike other areas of law, there seems to be a tendency to overcomplicate legislation relating to drink driving offences, making it more difficult to enforce and prosecute.

The consequence was that “judges will continue to come in for criticism for letting drunk drivers off as a result of perceived technicalities and misplaced derision will continue to be directed at lawyers for getting those same people off”. She also quoted the text as saying until legislation in the area gets a radical overhaul, “drunken drivers getting off on perceived technicalities will be a perennial source of debate and frustration among Irish society”.

Judge McGrath criticised a report on a 40 per cent success rate for drunk driving convictions, published in The Irish Times last year, based on figures released to the Oireachtas. The Courts Service later said the conviction rate was 88 per cent.

Judge McGrath said it was “still concerning that “despite this subsequent clarification” the 40 per cent figure “was put out there in the first instance”.

“There may be persons who are still under this misapprehension, and through complacency or cynicism, will consider getting back behind the wheel of a car with alcohol taken, thus undermining road safety,” she said.

The judge also criticisedan editorial in the paper, which called for the establishment of a judicial council and said “many judges have come to regard themselves as Catholic bishops once did - as independent powers within their court areas”.

She said the commentary was “unfair” and “concerning” and displayed “a lack of understanding of the judicial function and a lack of understanding of basic legal principles”, including the right of every person to come before the courts presumed innocent until proven guilty.