Hundreds of motorists banned for drink-driving in the UK may be able to continue driving in the South after a landmark ruling by a Circuit Court judge.
The Road Safety Authority (RSA) is examining how it can change its procedures after a loophole in the law was exposed.
Judge John O’Hagan was hearing a District Court Appeal by Martin Holmes of Sandy Row, Castlefinn, Co Donegal.
He had pleaded guilty to a drink-driving offence at Omagh Magistrates Court, Co Tyrone, in March 2014 and was banned from driving in the North.
However, he appealed a decision by the courts to also enforce his ban in the Republic.
Driving bans imposed in Northern Ireland also apply here after the RSA makes an application to the district court.
Frank Dorrian, solicitor for Holmes, argued at the Circuit Court in Letterkenny that the procedure here is flawed because the RSA brings its applications by way of a summons issued by a District Court clerk.
He said the Courts No 3 Act (1986) was introduced to enable court clerks to issue a summons in respect of an offence alleged in this State.
Mr Dorrian contended that the RSA could not make its application via a District Court summons, which can only be served in criminal proceedings.
“The court clerk in this case was exercising jurisdiction which cannot apply to this situation,” said Mr Dorrian.
Solicitor Jacqueline Maloney, representing the Road Safety Authority, said Mr Holmes had appeared in court in Tyrone, pleaded guilty, and had not appealed the driving ban.
She said the cross-Border recognition of driving bans was introduced under European legislation and, whilst this had not happened across the EU, it had “in our part of the world”.
She argued that the application to apply the ban in the Republic is a process, and not criminal proceedings.
However, Judge O’Hagan agreed with Mr Dorrian that the summons was not the proper legal ‘vehicle’ for the application of a ban in the Republic. “It is for the administration to create vehicles to bring matters before the court. It is for them to create one,” said the judge.
He said the legal argument of Mr Dorrian was “nitty-gritty and technical”.
However, he said the procedure referred to a summons and the application in court was not an offence in this State.
In the circumstances, he said, he was allowing the appeal.
“The process is punctured and I cannot repair the puncture,” added Judge O’Hagan.
Mr Holmes’s two-year drink-drive ban in the North expires at the end of March.
Northern drivers banned here for an offence in the Republic cannot challenge their bans being extended to the North.
This is because of the way the UK signed up to the EU directive on cross-Border disqualifications.
The RSA has withdrawn a number of applications for disqualifications in the North to be extended to the Republic as the bans had already expired.
Irish Independent 10 February 2016