Urgent need to bring thousands of laws up to date

The existence of 16 road traffic acts and more than 900 related statutory instruments makes it “extremely difficult” to determine what the law actually is, according to the State’s legal experts.

Complicated legislation covering sexual offences — with some acts going back to the 1880s — also makes it “very hard” to track down what the law is.

The Law Reform Commission said legislation covering these two areas are among more than 3,000 acts in force, a third of which date from before 1922 and the foundation of the State.

The commission, an independent statutory body, said it was very difficult to determine what the up-to-date legislation was without having to spend “significant amounts of time” doing it.

This is resulting in significant costs to clients and the taxpayer in the time and resources spent by solicitors, gardaí, or the DPP’s office in researching and ascertaining what the law is. The commission is arguing that a “one-stop-shop” website should be set up providing the most up to date legislation and is suggesting that a particular body be given the task.

The area is detailed in the commission’s Issues Paper on Consolidation and Online Publication of Legislation.

It said the failure to provide an up-to-date legislation was “clearly not satisfactory” both from a constitutional point of view and an economic perspective.

It cites the area of road traffic legislation.

The commission said the 1961 Road Traffic Act was an important consolidating piece of legislation, but said that since then there have been a further 15 such acts.

“This makes it extremely difficult to ascertain what the law on road traffic is at any given time,” said the 87-page document.

“Users also have to examine over 900 statutory instruments made under these acts to get a complete picture of the road traffic code.

“It is difficult to trace the current position concerning the offences related to drink-driving, probably the offences on the statute book most subject to legal challenges and appeals (a conviction carries automatic disqualification from driving).”

The commission noted the complexity of the law was criticised in the Supreme Court in one of the last judgments by the late Mr Justice Adrian Hardiman.

Commissioner Ray Byrne said it was only possible to understand traffic law after spending a “long, long time”.

He said the laws surrounding sexual offences were also extensive: “They are very hard to track down – some go back to the 1880s, then the 1930s, then the 1990s.”

He said this will now be added to by the forthcoming Sexual Offences Bill.

Mr Byrne said while there had been some progress on making laws available online there was a need to make “up to date legislation online in a planned and structured way”.

The issues paper was part of a consultation phase which ends in February, with a final report due by the end of next year.


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