Ruling may leave motorists off hook

THOUSANDS of motorists could escape penalty points and fines after the High Court ruled yesterday that garda devices used to monitor drivers were in breach of the law.

Some 400 laser guns used in garda speed traps do not provide a permanent, written record as required under the Road Traffic Act, 2002.

The legislation was updated on January 20 to enable gardaí use the laser guns, but thousands of motorists who were caught under the pre-January legislation can now challenge their prosecutions.

A High Court opinion was sought by District Judge Leo Malone following submissions made to him in a case at Carrick-on-Shannon District Court, Co Leitrim.

The matter arose in a case involving Frank Donlon, of Ard Na Cassa, Dublin Road, Longford, who appeared before Judge Malone to answer a July 2003 speeding summons.

He was prosecuted by Garda Peter T McDonnell who was operating a speed check in Attirory and was using a laser gun, the LT1 20/20 Ultralyte 100, which does not produce a permanent record of the speed recorded.

The court heard Garda McDonnell detected Mr Donlon driving at 63 mph in a 40-mile zone. He stopped Mr Donlon and handed him a fixed charge notice requiring him to pay €80 within 28 days or €120 within 56 days. No fine was paid and a summons was then issued returnable for Carrick-on-Shannon District Court on January 14.

The defendant contested the prosecution because there was no permanent record of the alleged speed.

When the case stated came before Mr Justice Quirke yesterday, he was told by Feichin McDonagh SC, for the DPP, that the director was withdrawing the case stated.

Tom O’Malley, for Mr Donlon, said the issues had been referred for the opinion of the High Court and it was appropriate that the questions be answered.

Mr Justice O’Sullivan was asked firstly, if the laser gun, which does not produce a written or permanent record, meets the requirements of section 21(1) and (3) of the Road Traffic Act, 2002 and if the word ‘record’ contained in the relevant section of the act requires a formal permanent record from a speed detection device to establish prime facie proof of the offence. Mr Justice O’Sullivan ruled the laser gun did not meet the requirements of the 2002 Act and a permanent record was required.

The High Court response to these questions has cast doubt on prosecutions for speeding offences in district courts across the country.

The Courts Service has not provided an exact number of contested speeding prosecutions, but is expected to be in the thousands.

Yesterday’s High Court decision will affect only motorists contesting outstanding cases initiated before the 2004 Act came into force on January 20 of this year. It carries the amendment which allows the use of speed trap equipment “which is not capable of producing a permanent record”.

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