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First time offenders Ireland

Updated: Feb 12

TWO PEOPLE CAN COMMIT the same offence but get different sentences.

That often leads to complaints of inconsistency.

Some people even find it annoying.

These are usually media types.

We live in the age of 'outrage' after all.

But think about that.

People always want consistency when it comes to the judiciary.

If a person commits X offence, they should get Y penalty. Right across the board. That’s the way it should be everywhere.

Or so the thinking goes.


Until it happens to you.

Most older readers might scoff at such a suggestion.

Happen to me?

“I’m a responsible member of the community, hardworking, tax paying. This sort of thing wouldn’t happen to me. Couldn’t happen to me”.



But what about your son or daughter? Are you so sure they wouldn’t do something silly sometime while out at night?

And what about that brother of yours?

He’s not like you, sensible and the like.  


And if they did, would you still call for that consistency in sentencing that you like so much?

Probably not.

Why? What’s changed?


Well, you know the person. You know that your ‘wonderful’ son, daughter or brother really is good and this was a ‘once off’.

Out of character you might say.

Surely that matters?

Don’t they take that sort of thing into account?


Sometimes yes, but remember, you wanted consistency.

You wanted a system where if a person committed X offence they got Y penalty, right?

Not any more it seems.

Now you want something different.

What about your son or daughter?
Are you so sure they wouldn’t do something silly sometime while out at night?
And what about that brother of yours?
He’s not like you, sensible and the like.  

You want fairness, justice, sympathy, whatever they mean.

You want your son or daughter or brother to be treated differently.

Now we’re in the grey world of the criminal justice system.

The judiciary live here.



IN 1999 LORD DENNING died. He was 100. Denning, the former Master of the Rolls, was one of the mightiest judicial figures of the twentieth century.

But he was also a strong champion of the rights of the common man.

 ‘Unlike my brother judge here, who is concerned with law,’ Denning once teased at a legal dinner, ‘I am concerned with justice.’

In its obituary the Daily Telegraph said that “whenever ‘Tom’ Denning was faced with a situation that seemed to him dishonest, unjust or wrong, all his ingenuity and erudition would be directed to finding a remedy, even if the wrongdoer appeared to have the law on his side”.


Denning was a judge who placed a heavier onus on what he thought was ‘fair’ rather than any strict application of the law.

I know judges like him, and I am sure that some of my clients have benefitted from this Denning-like approach to their case.


Legal purists might roll their eyes at this; the law is the law after all. It should be applied equally, they say.

But judges are not robots, and if they were, that ‘wonderful’ son, daughter or brother of yours might just find themselves convicted by a judge applying the law strictly and consistently.

Robots are not known for being sympathetic.


IF YOU ARE convicted of drink or drug driving, you will be disqualified from driving.

It does not matter whether this is your first conviction.

Disqualification is mandatory and must be imposed by the Judge.

The Judge has no choice.


Does your previous good record serve any purpose at all?

Yes, absolutely.

But only in terms of the fine that the court will impose.

Judges also take into account whether you are working, whether you have dependents to support, your level of cooperation (if any) with the Gardai.

If this is your first offence, you can normally expect a fine of between EUR250-400, depending on the circumstances of your case.

These are approximate figures obviously.

‘Unlike my brother judge here, who is concerned with law,’ 
Denning once teased at a legal dinner, 
‘I am concerned with justice.’


I ONCE REPRESENTED A WOMAN at Blanchardstown District Court in Dublin.

She was married to an abusive man.

He regularly left home and locked her into the house.

She was a very meek and quietly spoken lady.

One night they had an argument, and he threw her out of the house.

Both had been drinking.

She got into her car with the intention of sleeping there. She texted her husband to give her a duvet that she could wrap herself in and stay warm.

He opened the bedroom window upstairs and threw the duvet down on the footpath below. She took it and got into the car.

Not wanting her next-door neighbours to wake the next morning and see her asleep in her car she drove the car about 600 yards to another part of the estate where she would not be recognised by neighbours.

While sitting in the car she texted her husband and told him how horrible he had been.

A few minutes later a patrol car pulled up beside her. The Garda spoke to her.

He told her they had received a report of a woman drunk in a car.

Her husband had called the Gardai.

She was arrested and charged with drunk in charge, a penalty which carried an automatic disqualification from driving.


Most people would feel that what happened to this lady was unfair.

Even deeply unfair.

And maybe the judge was a fan of Lord Denning too.


Because he dismissed the drunk in charge case.  






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