Guidelines for judges would not interfere with their independence

Shane Ross said wrong message goes out if one judge gives poor box and another issues fine for similar offences

Shane Ross said if guidelines were given judges would still have discretion, “but they won’t have such a wide discretion as they’ve had in the past”. File photograph: Cyril Byrne

Shane Ross said if guidelines were given judges would still have discretion, “but they won’t have such a wide discretion as they’ve had in the past”. File photograph: Cyril Byrne

 

Minister for Transport Shane Ross maintains he is not interfering with the independence of the judiciary when he calls for guidelines on how judges should deal with speeding offences.

Speaking on Tuesday, in a follow up to comments in today’s Irish Times where he said judges should be given the guidelines to address wide variances in sentencing in road traffic cases, he said the wrong message goes out if one judge gives the poor box for a traffic offence and another person awards penalty points and a big fine.

“Some people will take much greater chances thinking they’re just going to get a very lenient fine,” he told RTÉ’s News at One.

“What I want to see is a consistency amongst the judges in the penalties they impose after conviction so that people who are thinking of offending or who have offended can be absolutely certain that they will get a certain degree of penalty.

“That’s why we are introducing the automatic disqualification for drink driving so that no one can be under the misapprehension that they’all possibly get a disqualification or they might even get off with three penalty points.

“I’am not interfering with the independence of the judiciary at all, I think the Law Reform Commission itself said in 2013 that it would be better if there was consistency in the penalties which they impose”.

He added if some guidelines were given judges would still have discretion, “but they won’t have such a wide discretion as they’ve had in the past”.

Poor box

“The poor box is still in existence despite the fact that the High Court actually ruled in 2015 that it shouldn’t be in existence.

“The poor box is imposed for some driving offences while for other driving offences, much more severe, more appropriate penalties should be imposed.

“I’m not interfering, I’m just suggesting that guidelines be there to guide the judges. I don’t think they should resist that in any way.”

The Minister also said that the issue of speed has not been properly addressed. He wants to see people get more points and be disqualified sooner. “We want to reduce speed and save lives. We want people to know that the law is there, that they will be caught, that they’re going to be convicted.”

He said he hasn’t ruled out a person being disqualified on a first speeding offence. “If people commit serious offences and they drive really dangerously, recklessly at a speed which is totally and utterly irresponsible and put other people’s lives at risk. I wonder whether it’s enough to give them a few penalty points and say ‘come back for more tomorrow.’ I think it’s the appropriate penalty for a crime of this sort — to take people off the roads so they’re no longer a danger to innocent people driving down the same road”.

He said enforcement was part of the equation but “the law has to be right to start, the law has to be strict on people who are going out with a very dangerous vehicle in their hands which is a killer weapon. The first thing is to introduce a law which is strict on people who abuse the car, one way or the other, and to see that enforcement is improved.”

Mr Ross added that the lower road death figures (which he says are still too high) for 2017 are because of better enforcement. “The message is going out that people are more likely to be caught.”

Last year road deaths fell to 158, down from 185 in 2016, and the lowest annual death toll since records began in 1959.