Hundreds of drunk driving prosecutions could be thrown out of court despite emergency amending legislation introduced this week.
The new law, in effect from midnight on Monday, could still mean outstanding drunk driving cases in the months before may be challenged because breath alcohol test statements weren’t made in the first official language, Irish.
The High Court ruled on Monday that if the statements are in English only they could be invalid.
The court was supporting a decision referred to it by a judge in the lower District Court seeking confirmation of his ruling. He had decided that a case before him was not properly prosecuted because gardaí did not provide two identical printout statements in Irish and English on a sampled breath specimen.
The testing was done on an Evidenzer alcohol breath sampling machine. Evidenzers were rolled out three years ago nationally at a cost of €10,000 ($11,173) per machine to crack down on drunk driving.
The Director of Public Prosecutions failed in his court argument that that it was not necessary to print the statement in two languages.
High Court Judge Seamus Noonan said, “In my view, what arises in this case, being a failure to reproduce an entire half of the prescribed form, could not be regarded as ‘mere deviation’ from the form prescribed. It is not evidence at all and cannot be admitted.”
By Tuesday, emergency legislation was rushed through to close the loophole. Transport Minister Paschal Donohoe, on the advice of Attorney General Maire Whelan, signed amending legislation declaring that statements may be introduced in either English or Irish.
“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,” Donohoe said.
Road safety group PARC, said Monday’s court development was “very distressing” for families who had lost loved ones to drink drivers.
“Our members were attending a number of court hearings where we observed solicitors asking judges to dismiss drunk driving charges for this very reason,” a spokesperson said.