The Criminal Courts of Justice
A MOTORIST acquitted of dangerous driving causing the death of an oncoming driver must wait to hear whether his acquittal will be overturned by the Court of Appeal.
The man, who cannot be named for legal reasons as he is not technically before the courts, was previously charged with dangerous driving causing the death of another motorist in County Limerick in 2014.
He was acquitted by a jury, on the direction of the trial judge, following a trial earlier this year.
The Court of Appeal has heard the man’s car crossed 1.7metres into the opposing lane of traffic before colliding with the deceased’s oncoming car on a straight stretch of road.
He had not been drinking or speeding. His mobile phone had not been used for 42 minutes prior to the incident. There was no evidence of any medical issue, no evidence of any infirmities in the vehicle, no evidence that any environmental factor contributed to the incident and no evidence that his vehicle went out of control.
The trial judge directed the jury to acquit the then accused on the basis that there was insufficient evidence to support the charge of dangerous driving causing death. There was no alternative charge such as careless driving causing death.
The Director of Public Prosecutions moved to appeal the man’s acquittal on a point of law under Section 23 of the Criminal Procedure Act 2010.
Counsel for the DPP, Anne-Marie Lawlor SC, told the Court of Appeal that the act of driving dangerously had been defined by the courts as “driving in a manner which a reasonably prudent person would recognise involved a direct, immediate and serious risk to the public.”
Ms Lawlor said the jury ought to have been given the opportunity to assess whether driving 1.7m into oncoming traffic was a dangerous act. She said the jury could have assessed where on the spectrum of dangerous versus carelessness it lay.
Instead, she submitted that the trial judge engaged in a “personal analysis” on whether an alternative charge - careless driving causing death - was more appropriate.
That was not the test and the trial judge erred in applying legal principles set down in a case known as ‘Galbraith”, Ms Lawlor submitted.
When asked about a potential lapse in concentration, she said it was for the jury to assess whether that would have been careless or dangerous.
Counsel for the acquitted man, Dominic McGinn SC, said it was a matter of sufficiency, not quality of evidence, and there simply was not sufficient evidence to support the charge of dangerous driving causing death.
Mr McGinn said there were no inherently dangerous features on the facts. He said an element of the offence was not present. It was a legal assessment and the trial judge was obliged to make that assessment.
“Every time there is a collision one could point to a driver in the wrong and conclude what they did must be dangerous.”
If there hadn't been a tragic death, the most his client would have been charged with was careless driving, Mr McGinn said.
President of the Court of Appeal Mr Justice George Birmingham, who sat with Mr Justice John Edwards and Ms Justice Isobel Kennedy, said the court would reserve its judgment.