Let me explain.
You should not turn up to court unrepresented.
Firstly, virtually no case is hopeless regardless of your alcohol limit. This may seem counter-intuitive but the alcohol limit in your breath, blood or urine is not the end of the matter.
It’s just the beginning.
It’s the beginning because that alcohol level is what lands you in court in the first place. If you’re over the limit you end up in court. If you’re not you don’t.
Being fair is part of what the law is supposed to be.
The concept of justice is a little harder to nail down.
What exactly is ‘just’?
One person’s justice may be another person’s injustice.
So, an excess alcohol reading is just the beginning, but it’s not the end.
It is true that the alcohol reading is a factor -of course it is- but it is not the only factor in proving the case against you. There are many other procedural steps that must be followed in order for the case to be proven against you.
Obviously, you’re free to plead guilty if you want to and be disqualified from driving for -on average- two or three years.
But most people don’t want that.
Most people can’t afford to be without their car. It’s not that they don’t think they made a mistake -they do- it’s just that the law puts them between a rock and a hard place. If they plead guilty they’re off the road, no matter how unfortunate their case is.
Most people want to fight these cases and as we live in a democracy and not some authoritarian state where the result is preordained, that is their right.
Now that you know that every case is potentially defensible regardless of the alcohol reading, let’s look at Court.
COURT OF LAW, NOT JUSTICE.
If you've been summoned to court, you do not have to obtain a Solicitor. You can represent yourself.
But think about that.
As much as you think that you know from online research or asking people, you simply cannot defend a case like this on your own.
You wouldn't attempt open heart surgery after watching YouTube videos so why on earth would you attempt to represent yourself in court? After all this isn’t some meaningless thing. This is really serious: if you lose you go off the road.
Once represented by a solicitor your position gets a little easier.
That is why these are
courts of law,
not courts of justice.
Your solicitor's job is to speak on your behalf.
If you have a lawyer, you will not be asked to speak. In fact, the Judge will positively discourage you from speaking on the grounds that - due to anxiety or nervousness - you blurt out something that is against your best interests.
In virtually every court in the country - and I have been to many of them- this pattern is repeated. If a person comes into court without a solicitor, the Judge will expressly ask them whether they intend to get a lawyer or not.
They’ll even allow them time to get one if they wish.
Even if a person says that they want to represent themselves the Judge will outline the penalties that can occur if they are convicted.
If this doesn’t get through, they will advise them to seek legal representation. If even this fails to change their minds many Judges will simply adjourn their case point-blank and tell them to get a solicitor.
Think about that.
It's not in a Judge's interests to adjourn cases.
Court lists across the country are sinking under the sheer weight of cases that are piling onto already overburdened lists. Judges are trying to clear their lists, not make them longer.
In almost every court Judges complain about the length of court lists and the reality that no system has been set up to help clear them.
If you’ve ever been to some district courts in Dublin, you’ll know what I mean. I had a case in a West Dublin court on 8 December. It was given a trial date in January 2024, thirteen months later. This is not unusual.
So adjourning your case into an already overloaded future list is not in their best interests.
But yet they do it. Why?
Because one of the functions of the court is the overlooked legal concept of "fairness".
Judges know perfectly well that you do not know how the Court system works. They know you’ve probably never been to court before in your life. They also know that your knowledge of the law is probably non-existent.
They also know that they have an over-riding obligation to be fair to you.
By telling you that you should get a solicitor they are not giving you an order. You can refuse to do that and that is your right. But they are signaling something to you, something you should pay attention to.
And they’re doing something else: they are protecting you from yourself.
They are protecting you from taking steps today that may have long-lasting, unintended negative consequences for you into the future.
Being fair is part of what the law is supposed to be. The concept of justice is a little harder to nail down. What exactly is ‘just’? One person’s justice may be another person’s injustice.
‘Fairness’ is different. As a concept ‘fairness’ is easier to understand.
That is why these are courts of law, not courts of justice.
While it is rare that people represent themselves in Court for things like drink driving, it does happen. I can only assume that people do this because they believe -or have been led to believe by others - that their situation is hopeless.
This is rarely the case.
Defending a drink driving case is not rocket science. It is not beyond the bounds of intelligent people to understand the law, if it is explained to them or they are experienced in it.
But non-criminal lawyers generally don't understand this space and some criminal law solicitors are unaware of aspects of it.
This is understandable as many of them practice other areas of law beyond road traffic law e.g. public order, assaults, sexual offences, fraud and property offences.
It is impossible be good at everything.
If drink driving practice, procedure and caselaw is beyond the skillset of many lawyers (because it's simply not an area of law that they ever practice) how can a non-lawyer, like your friends or work colleagues, possibly understand it?
And why would you listen to them?
Why would you listen to people pontificating about something that will have life-changing consequences for you, not them, if it goes wrong?
After all talk is cheap.
What should you say in court for drink driving? Ideally you will be represented by a lawyer, and won’t have to say anything.
But if you do come to court without a lawyer, can I suggest that you ask the court to give you some time to get one?
These are courts of law after all.