The situation arises after a successful High Court judicial review case taken by a firm of Limerick solicitors against the DPP which has resulted in a decision by a District Judge to strike out speeding prosecutions brought under Section 5 of the Road Traffic Act 2004.
Section 5 of the Act governs speed limits in built-up areas, which are clearly defined in the legislation as being areas of cities, towns and boroughs.
However, a recent test case brought before Nenagh District Court by the Limerick-based firm Hayes Solicitors was withdrawn by the Gardaí at the direction of the DPP following a High Court judicial review.
Since then, District Judge Mary Martin, who sits in a number of courts in the Tipperary District, has been striking out all cases involving drivers who were prosecuted for exceeding the speeding limit in villages and rural townlands situated on national primary routes and other roads.
Dr Breda Hayes, solicitor of Hayes Solicitors, Limerick, who brought the judicial review test case in the High Court, said that the DPP had conceded that Section 5 of the Act had not been properly applied.
She said Section 5 of the Act only applied in cases where drivers were caught speeding in built-up areas. She said a built-up area under the legislation was clearly defined as being an area of a city, town or borough. In the test case taken, it was successfully argued that a townland situated on the main Limerick-Dublin Road was not defined under the law as a built-up area, therefore an essential ingredient of the alleged offence was missing.
“Many people have been convicted of a non-existent offence over a prolonged period of time and their convictions were unlawful and in breach of their fundamental human rights,” said Dr Hayes.
Dr Hayes confirmed that the number of drivers wrongly convicted is likely to be very substantial over time.
“The case has far-reaching consequences and major implications for the state particularly in respect of those who have been unlawfully convicted and obtained penalty points,” she said.
She said: “There can be no punishment without law.”
She said that to convict someone of a non-existent offence was a breach of the European Convention on Human Rights and drivers were entitled to seek a remedy and be compensated for being wrongly convicted.
No matter what changes were made in the law now, those changes could not be applied retrospectively to wrongly convicted drivers.
Dr Hayes said it was not sufficient for the District Courts to strike out summonses against drivers who had been wrongly prosecuted. Cases had to be withdrawn by the DPP to exonerate them.