LIMERICK solicitors expressed surprise and astonishment this week following the publication of figures which revealed Limerick as one of the worst areas in the country for securing convictions for drink driving. The figures claim that only one in three people, or 36% of those charged with drink driving in Limerick, receives a conviction. In the Newcastle West district court area the situation is even worse. There, the rate of conviction is just one in four.
“I find those figures very hard to believe,” Rathkeale-based solicitor Michael O’Donnell said, while Abbeyfeale solicitor, Stephen Daly added: “I am surprised by the figures reported. I thought the conviction rate in our area would be higher.”
“These figures bear no relation to reality,” said Charlie O’Connor, a Kanturk-based solicitor who regularly defends drink driving cases in Newcastle West and Kilmallock.
The figures, covering the period from January 2013 to now, were contained in a reply to a parliamentary question from Dublin-based TD Tommy Brougham and show that the national average for convictions is just 40%. The worst county in the country was Kerry, with a 29% conviction rate, while the best was Offaly, with 68%.
“I challenge an awful lot of excess alcohol cases and it has been my experience the vast majority of excess alcohol cases are pleaded to,” Mr O’Connor said. “There is nobody sitting in a court every day where there are seven out of ten people getting off. It doesn’t happen.”
Solicitors, he said, are “astonished” at the figures. “Dismissals are rare,” Mr O’Connor said. “These figures bear no relation to reality.
“I don’t know where these figures came from,” he continued but he suggested that perhaps the figures were being skewed by including adjourned cases in along with finalised cases. “If cases are adjourned, they are adjourned and they are not finalised, they should not be counted,” he said. And he described the present road traffic legislation as draconian arguing that the penalties here are the highest in Europe.
Another source, with long experience of court cases, believes that one reason for the low conviction rate could be because cases are often withdrawn by the state.
“While reasons are not always given in open court, the unavailability of garda witnesses is often the reason,” he said.
“Another significant factor in the figures is the Supreme Court decision last year which ruled that the “routine handcuffing” of prisoners by gardai was unlawful. While, the Supreme Court case was not specifically related to drink driving suspects, there was a policy in the city for several years of “arrest them, cuff them and bring them to the station” for all categories of prisoners,” he continued. And he said he was aware of a number of drink driving prosecutions in the past year which were thrown out or withdrawn in the wake of that ruling.
Other solicitors also speculated that another High Court challenge on the issue of giving the intoxylzer results in both Irish and English would have given rise to a number of adjournments which could also have affected the calculation of the conviction rate.
Superintendent Tom O’Connor who took over the Newcastle West Garda District in 2014 said he would not comment on the figures. However, he added: “I would accept the conviction rates would be low enough because it is the most hotly contested piece of legislation at District Court level.”
He went on to say that carrying out mandatory alcohol checks formed a major chunk of policing in his and every other garda district.
These checks, he said, happen every day of the year in Newcastle West and in every district in the country.
“I would say the vast majority of people are very compliant,” Supt O’Connor said. “A lot of people are making alternative arrangements to get home.”