Authorisation of ‘drink driving’ checkpoints at multiple locations held legal

The High Court has ruled that the establishment of fourteen drink driving checkpoints was valid, following a challenge from an individual charged with drink driving.

The court found that a Mandatory Alcohol Testing authorisation, which allowed for the establishment of checkpoints from Monday 24th March 2014 to Sunday 30th March 2014 at 14 different locations was valid, and that a stretch of road over one kilometre long is not necessarily too large an area to be determined a location for the purposes of establishing a checkpoint.

The High Court had been asked to consider both issues by Judge David Kennedy, sitting at the District Court of Bray.

Judge David Kennedy had been faced with a case in which an individual was charged with drunk driving, following an authorised mandatory alcohol checkpoint.

The defendant, James Gregory, had submitted that the prosecution should be dismissed, as the checkpoint had been authorised in such a way as allowed for multiple authorisations over a period of 7 days at multiple locations and times.

As such, it was argued that such an authorisation was invalid for the purposes of Section 10 of the Road Traffic Act 2010.

Following this, Judge Kennedy posed two questions of law to the High Court. First, whether a written authorisation which contained multiple times and locations was legal, and secondly, whether a stretch of road over one kilometre long was specific enough to be considered a location for the purposes of establishing a check point.

Delivering the judgment, Mr Justice Max Barrett noted that it was important to consider Judge Kennedy’s questions in light of the specific facts of the case.

Thus, what was at issue was not “some sort of free-wheeling authority allowing wholesale establishment of checkpoints in some undefined manner over a 7-day period”.

The Court noted that such an authority would be considered an unwarranted interference with the right to liberty, as discussed withinWeir v. DPP IEHC 268.

However, the current case was concerned with an authorisation of “checkpoints from Monday 24th March 2014 to Sunday 30th March 2014 at 14 different locations at specified 45 minute intervals through that 7 day period.”

Drawing on s.18(a) of the Interpretation Act 2005, which specifies that all singulars should be read as also importing the plural, the Court found that the Road Traffic Act 2010 allowed for the establishment of multiple checkpoints if clearly identified in writing.

The Court noted that the end-result of the establishment of checkpoints could be criminal prosecutions. However, to read the Road Traffic Act as excluding multiple checkpoints would be to potentially “see the personal rights of drunk drivers elevated above the personal rights of their potential victims, a state of affairs that the court is entirely confident the Oireachtas did not intend to achieve.”

As an aside, the Court also noted the importance that Courts balance their “required vigilance for individual freedoms” with their respect for a “constitutionally constrained, sovereign legislature”.

With regards to whether a road of more than one kilometre can be considered a ‘location’, the Court found that latitude should be given to the Garda, in order to allow for checkpoints to be established at suitable locations.

Furthermore, District Judges, with their knowledge of the relevant area, could be trusted to decide at which point to name a road would not be to name a ‘place’, understood as a “a particular position, point, or area in space; a location”.

Thus, the District Judge’s question of whether a specific road could be considered a ‘location’, was referred back to the District Court to determine.

  • by Rachel Killean for Irish Legal News
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