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First cases against drivers for not producing licences in court thrown out by judge

CourtsBy Tom Tuite
The offence is for failing to produce driving licences or learner permits in court
The offence is for failing to produce driving licences or learner permits in court

THE first batch of cases against drivers for not bringing licences to court to have penalty points recorded have been thrown out by a judge who branded the prosecutions “fundamentally flawed”.

The 21 motorists, mostly men, appeared at Dublin District Court today.

The offence is under Section 22 of the Road Traffic Act, 2002 for failing to produce driving licences or learner permits in court when they were convicted of motoring offences, including speeding and holding a mobile phone while driving. It is a separate offence which carries an additional criminal conviction along with a fine.

Five of the cases were withdrawn by the State and Judge Marie Keane dismissed the remaining prosecutions because summonses issued to the defendants did not tell them it was a criminal offence not to produce their licence in court. They were entitled to know the consequences that flow from not having produced their licence, she held.

The prosecutions had been brought following requests by the Ministers for Justice and Transport. The 2002 Act had been updated in 2010, the court also heard.

Oisin Clarke BL (instructed by solicitor Brian Keenan) represented several of the 21 defendants. He pointed out that the legislation stated the defendant must bring their driver's license, learner's permit or a copy of them to the proceedings and produce them to the court registrar.

However,  the summonses served on them just had a warning that they were obliged to bring their licences but they did not indicate the consequences of failing to produce them in court. He argued that the defendants had complied with the summonses in so far as they had their licences with them.

“How is that person supposed to know, when the summons does not make it clear, that failing to do so attracts a separate conviction?” he argued.

He said the Act has a mandatory provision but in absence of the court making a request it would be unfair for a lay person to be penalised because they had not been asked for their licences.

He argued that it was a complex area for lawyers too and it was unclear how the defendants could know it was a criminal offence when that was not indicated on a legal document, he submitted. He also told the judge that he was instructed his clients had their licences with them for their court cases.

The State conceded that the summonses issued did not go on to say it is an offence not to produce a licence or learner's permit in court.

Judge Keane said the penalty points system gained a lot of attention in the media and rightly so as there was more than enough evidence to connect speeding and holding a mobile phone while driving with fatalities and bad accidents.

However, she went on to say the legislation was unwieldy and had been amended in a piecemeal fashion. Dismissing the cases, she said the summonses were “fundamentally flawed” because a person who comes before the court is entitled to know the consequences that flow from not having produced their licence.

However, the decision does not have an impact on the defendants' speeding and holding a phone while driving convictions.