Road Traffic Offences are the most frequently prosecuted offences in the District Court. While some road traffic offences are, relatively speaking, of a minor nature, the consequences of a conviction can have significant repercussions for a person.
If you are charged with any road traffic offence you should seek immediate legal advice. This is a complex are of law and your solicitor will be able to offer advice which may help you avoid penalty points and a fine. In more serious cases a custodial sentence may be avoided.
A person cannot drive or allow another to drive his/her vehicle in a public place without the driver holding a valid driving licence. A person includes a limited liability company.
To prove driving, the prosecution must establish that the defendant had control over the vehicle at the relevant time. This is a matter of evidence and it is for the District Court Judge to determine, based on the facts, whether or not this element of the offence has been proven beyond reasonable doubt.
The Road Traffic Act defines a mechanically propelled vehicle as a vehicle intended or adapted for propulsion by mechanical (including electrical or partly electrical) means, including a bicycle or tricycle with an attachment for propelling it by mechanical power, whether or not the attachment is being used.
A public place is any public road and any street, road or other place to which the public have access with vehicles whether as of right or by permission and whether subject to or free of charge.
In order to secure a conviction for the offence, the prosecution must establish that the above ingredients are all present to the requisite standard of proof. From a defence perspective, obviously the best defence is the production of a valid driving licence or driving permit covering you for driving on the date in question. It might appear to be a straight forward matter: either a licence covers a driver or it doesn't. However, there may be further factors which need to be considered such as was the driver using an international driving permit? how long were they in the country? was the driver disqualified from driving at the relevant time but was unaware of this fact? Each case is different and what are normally straightforward matters can end up taking considerable court time through legal argument.
If you have any queries regarding the above you should speak to a solicitor who specialises in road traffic offences.
The penalties for this offence are a fine not exceeding €1000 if your licence had expired for a period of less than 12 months. In any other case the maximum fine is €2500. If you were disqualified from driving at the time of the offence the maximum fine that may be imposed is €5000 together with a maximum custodial sentence of 6 months.
Restoration of driving licence
If you have been disqualified from driving you can, in certain circumstances, make an application to the District Court to have your licence 'restored' without the necessity of completing the full period of your disqualification.
Recent legislation has changed the law in relation to these applications. You may now only apply for your licence to be restored if the disqualification you received was your first disqualification from driving within the last 10 years. If it is your second disqualification within the last 10 years, you can still have your licence restored but only if you were not disqualified for a period greater than 2 years. i.e. if you received a previous disqualification for one year, you can still apply for your licence to be restored if you subsequently receive a second disqualification. If you were disqualified for 3 years you cannot make the application.
You can only apply for your licence to be restored once you have completed half of the disqualification period. For example if you were disqualified from driving for a period of four years on the 1st January, 2014 you can only apply for your licence to be restored on the 1st January, 2016.
Your licence can only be actually restored once you have completed two thirds of the disqualification period. In the example above, you would only be entitled to have your licence restored on the 1st September, 2016 notwithstanding that you can make the application eight months prior to this.
The Court can not restore a driving licence for a period of less than 2 years.
The offence of 'using' a MPV without a valid insurance certificate is one of the most frequently proseucted offences in the District Court.
It is also an offence to allow somebody else use your vehicle when they are not insured to drive. In such circumstances the owner of the vehicle is also liable to be prosecuted for giving consent to a third party.
It is important to note that, once a member of An Garda Siochana has made a lawful demand for you to produce a certificate of insurance, the onus is then on you to prove that you were insured. Technically this is referred to as an evidential burden rather than a legal burden as the legal burden of proof always rests with the prosecution. However, call it what you will, you must 'show' that you were insured once the demand has been made. Failure to do so will result in a conviction being recorded against you.
To show that you were so insured, you must produce a valid certificate of insurance that covers you for use of the vehicle on the day you were stopped. The prosecution, and more importantly the Judge, will not accept any other documentary evidence such as your insurance disc or even a letter from your insurance company. You must produce the original certificate of insurance.
Other than by producing a valid certificate of insurance there are a few defences that may be available to you and you should contact your solicitor to discuss your options. For example, it is a defence to show that the vehicle was being used without your consent or that you were an employee using the vehicle on the express orders of your employer.
More complex defences to a charge of driving without insurance sometimes arise. There are certain circumstances in which an insurance company will try to argue that a valid policy of insurance does not exist because the policy holder has obtained the policy either by fraud (not disclosing previous convictions) or on the basis that the policy holder never had a valid driving licence. In these circumstances, it is possible to raise a defence to a charge of no insurance, on the basis that the insurance company is obliged to provide cover to third parties, notwithstanding the fact that the policy holder did not disclose previous convictions or the fact that they did not hold a valid licence. In the context of Road Traffic prosecutions, this is a complex defence which involves application of both Irish and EU law.
The penalties for a no insurance conviction are as follows:
A fine not greater than €5000;
A custodial sentence not exceeding 6 months;
A disqualification from driving (2 yrs on a first conviction and potentially for a considerably longer period if you have more than one previous conviction).
5 penalty points (these are mandatory following conviction).
If it is your first conviction for no insurance you may, if a 'special reason' exists, avoid a disqualification from driving. The legislation does not define what a special reason is and, to date, there is no superior case law from the Irish Courts interpreting what exactly is meant by a 'special reason'. It is, therefore, up to the District Court Judge in each case to reach a decision as to whether, in their view, based on the facts a special reason exists why a person convicted of the offence should not be disqualified.
You should provide your solicitor with full instructions relating to your personal circumstances and, importantly, the circumstances surrounding the offence itself.
Dangerous Driving; Careless Driving & Driving without reasonable consideration
These offences all come under the general heading of ‘bad driving’ and vary in degrees of seriousness. They all carry potential disqualifications although dangerous driving is the only one that carries a mandatory disqualification. The court has a discretion with regard to careless driving and there is no ‘consequential’ disqualification for driving without reasonable consideration although, as with all road traffic offences, the court may impose a disqualification (knows as an ancillary order) in certain circumstances.
The penalties for these offences range, in the District Court, from a maximum fine of €1000 for Driving without Reasonable Consideration to €5000 for Dangerous Driving. There is also a potential custiodial sentence of 6 months for Dangerous Driving in the District Court. If death or serious injury results from the offence, the case may be tried, on indictment, in the Circuit Court where the maximum penalties consist of a fine not greater than €20,000 and a maximum prison sentence of 10 years.
If you are charged, or think you may be charged, with any of these offences you should seek immediate legal advice.
Drunk Driving & Drug Driving
'Intoxicant Offences' are among the most contested offences in the District Court. Once a conviction has been recorded there is an automatic disqualification from driving regardless of whether or not a guilty plea was entered.
The proofs required for this offence are notoriously technical and the relevant legislation covers almost 55 years of constantly changing law. Not only do the statutory provisions regulating these offences change every other year but there is also a constant stream of case law emanating from the higher courts which is required to interpret the most recently enacted legislation. It seems that, in this area of the law, it is almost impossible for legislators to draft legislation that will provide clarity and will not be open to different interpretations.
As with all road traffic offences, it is essential if you are charged with drunk or drug driving that you contact a solicitor who has expertise in this area and is up to date with the current statutory provisions and caselaw.
The maximum fine for these offences is €5000 and there is a maximum custodial sentence of 6 months.
Penalty Point Offences
Many people who spend a lot of time in their cars will be familiar with penalty point offences.
The Legislature are constantly adding to the list of offences which attract penalty points and amending the amount of points that may be imposed. The offences of speeding and using a mobile phone whilst driving are among the most familiar of these offences but there is a long list of offences and all drivers should make themselves familiar with them.
It is worth noting that District Court Judges have no discretion with regard to the imposition of penalty points. Once a conviction is recorded, the penalty points are automatically applied to your licence and a Judge has no jurisdiction to make an order that they not be imposed. It is also worth noting that the court cannot apply the Probation Act to penalty point offences. Furthermore, a recent High Court decision has ruled that a District Court Judge can not 'strike out' proceedings for a penalty point offence on the defendant making a charitable donation to the court's poor box. This was a practice of the courts for many years prior to this decision.