THE ‘inefficiency’ with which some doctors fill out statutory forms when attending garda stations as part of their role in obtaining samples when people are arrested on suspicion of drink driving, was commented on by Judge Mary Devins last week.
On the bench for Westport District Court, sitting in Castlebar, the judge made her feelings known when the issue arose as the main reason that two drink driving prosecutions before her were being contested by the defence. It is not the first time this has happened in her courtroom. The role of Gardaí in this process was also commented on.
The most common reason for contesting such charges last week was in fact the failure of doctors who attended Westport Garda Station to correctly fill out the forms relevant to their visit to take medical samples, something which gave rise to several discussions during the course of the day.
In criminal cases the burden of proof is high and the exact procedures during each step of the process, as defined by law, must be followed.
In one case last week, which was adjourned, the doctor who attended Westport Garda Station last January, where a man arrested on suspicion of drink driving opted to provide a urine sample, the form as filled in by the doctor contained a date in June 2016 and not January 2016. This was described by the defending solicitor as ‘an unsatisfactory prosecution with a lot at stake and the incorrect date is a fundamental issue to it’. The case was eventually adjourned owing to a delay in getting the prosecution statements to the defence.
“Errors in doctors forms are becoming more discussed, and the arresting garda should look at them [the forms] and see these [errors],” said Judge Devins.
“Then the bureau [Garda Medical Bureau which analyses the samples] signs it on a date in January and allows a date of June to also be on it. They are simply not reading the forms. There is no need to race through this process, time should be afforded to the defendant, and tutorials between the gardaí and medical personnel are needed.”
In a subsequent case issues also arose in relation to the form filled out by doctors in garda stations when dealing with persons arrested on suspicion of drink driving.
In one instance a challenge was brought as the doctor did not expressly specify on the form that a urine sample was provided (though they did so in writing at the end of the form).
Solicitor James Ward, defending all the cases relating to form errors, said that the doctors’ certificate is referred to as being a ‘completed form’, whereas the one before the court in this case was not. He said there were ‘absent, glaring, obvious and avoidable errors’.
“There is a discrepancy between the two forms, and it is not just a minor technical error, it is a fundamental flaw. These prosecutions are weighted in favour of the state and it is incumbent on the state to do this correctly.”
Superintendent of the Westport Garda District, Seán Colleran, successfully argued this was not a fatal issue, quoting Supreme Court case law to counter Mr Ward’s case law examples which he had used to back his earlier argument. He conceded that Gardaí have a role to ensure the forms are completed correctly.
Judge Devins said the issue is down to something that is ‘happening all the time’. It is not the first time she has highlighted this matter in her court.
“Every single one of these doctors’ forms have been completed by a Westdoc Doctor. This is purely inefficiency,” she said, saying in relation to the above case that the omission was ‘cured by the reference at the final paragraph where the doctor says ‘urine’’.
“It avoids being fatal but it it is unsatisfactory. I would never penalise anybody for contesting a case of this nature as the more this type of thing is highlighted the better,” she concluded.