DPP seeks to close loophole in drink-drive law

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The Independent Online
THE DIRECTOR of Public Prosecutions, Barbara Mills QC, yesterday urged the High Court to plug a loophole that appeared to pave the way for thousands of drink-drive convictions to be quashed.

Lawyers acting for Mrs Mills said a test case heard by the High Court in June had been wrongly decided and should not be followed. More than 150 motorists had already lodged appeals against fines or disqualifications as a result of that decision, Alun Jones QC, for the DPP, said.

'They can fairly be said to represent only a small proportion of the number of cases involved, dating back, on one view, to 1972 and on another to 1981,' he said.

Six drivers are asking the High Court to clear them on the basis of the test-case ruling. Their appeal is being contested by Mrs Mills. In an unusual move, the court agreed that her counsel should open the hearing.

In the judgment last June, two High Court judges decided that Bootle magistrates had been right to throw out a case brought by Merseyside police against Terry Corcoran, 43, for failing to provide samples in breach of the 1988 Road Traffic Act.

They held that the wording of the charge sheet was 'bad for duplicity' because it did not specify whether Mr Corcoran was being investigated for 'driving or attempting to drive' under one section of the Act, or, under another section, of 'being in charge of a vehicle'. In law, a defendant cannot be tried on one charge for two different possible offences.

Standard charge sheets for drink-drive offences have been used all over the country for the past 20 years, both in relation to the 1988 Act and the 1972 Road Traffic Act which preceded it. The test-case ruling that they were flawed opened the floodgates for appeals by motorists found guilty of failing to supply samples. Estimates have put the number as high as 200,000.

But yesterday, Mr Jones contended that Mr Corcoran had, in fact, only been charged with one offence and that, in any event, a charge which included, by implication, two or more offences was not necessarily 'bad for duplicity or uncertainty'.

The six motorists seeking the quashing of their convictions, between last November and August, of failing to provide specimens are: Christopher Shaw, of Poplar Way, Bramley, Leeds; James Yates, a company director, of Jefferson Ave, Bournemouth, Dorset; Paul White, unemployed, of Netherfield, Widnes, Cheshire; Graham Boundford, of Pound Cottage, Penlan Road, Llandough, South Glamorgan; William George Bolton, unemployed, of Keswick Walk, Wyken, Coventry; and Gabriel Gus Garcia, a banker, of Southfields Road, Putney, south-west London.

The hearing continues.