40% conviction rate for drink-driving ‘simply wrong’

The Courts Service has dismissed reports of a 40% conviction rate for drink-driving cases since 2013 as “simply wrong”, stating that the actual figure stands at 86%.

Figures released by the Department of Justice in response to a parliamentary question by Independent TD Tommy Broughan show that, of the more than 20,000 people due before the district courts for drink-driving offences, just 6,700, or 40%, were convicted.

Tommy Broughan
Tommy Broughan

The Courts Service said the 40% figure is “simply wrong”, “distorts reality”, and “in no way reflects the conviction rates in the district courts”.

It pointed out that the 20,000 figure released last week related to summonses requested, printed, and issued, and does not compare in any way to the numbers of cases heard and finalised in court.

This is due to a number of factors, including:

  • By year-end, many summonses may have been requested and are awaiting processing;
  • By year-end, many may have been issued and not yet served on defendants;
  • By year-end, they may have been served and given a court date in the next year;
  • By year-end, cases may have been listed before the courts but not yet finalised;
  • Some summonses never proceed to full prosecution, for numerous reasons.

“It is therefore inaccurate to extrapolate conviction rates from such figures — as the courts have not heard many of them,” the statement reads.

The Courts Service pointed out that in the two years and seven months to July 31, 2015, the district courts had finalised and made decisions in 11,237 drink-driving cases and convicted in 9,714 cases — a conviction rate of 86.44%, with 13.56% being acquitted.

In that 31-month period, 9,133 people were disqualified from driving, 8,313 were fined, 307 were sent to jail, and 450 had suspended prison sentences imposed.

The Courts Service said an examination of drink-driving cases heard and finalised in court show a conviction rate of 88% in 2013, 85% in 2014, and 87% to date this year.

“Recent reporting and commentary on drink-driving cases and conviction rates has been inaccurate, simply due to the extrapolation of conviction rates from the wrong set of figures,” said a statement.

“This has distorted the actual outcomes in cases heard, and conviction rates are actually over twice the 40% reported and commented upon recently. In figures compiled over the past week by the Courts Service, it is clear the average figure for convictions each year is between 85% and 88%.”

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