Supreme Court to revisit Gardaí’s power to handcuff suspected drink drivers

In these three determinations, DPP v Corrigan, Gannon and Pires, the Supreme Court granted the three appellants leave to appeal on two questions:

(a) Did the High Court and Court of Appeal correctly apply the scope and principles contained in s 2 of the Summary Jurisdiction Act 1851, as amended?

(b) Did the High Court and court of Appeal correctly apply the law as decided in DPP v Cullen?

 

Background

In DPP v Cullen (post) a three judge panel of the Supreme Court allowed Cullen’s appeal against his conviction for drink driving. The arresting garda had a policy of handcuffing all suspected drink drivers. Fennelly J held that the arresting garda acted unlawfully in handcuffing Cullen where he had not first formed the opinion that Cullen might resist arrest; therefore the evidence of intoxication retrieved afterwards was inadmissible (Hardiman J concurred and Clarke J dissented).

In these three cases the appellants raised the argument in the District Court that the arresting garda in each case had acted unlawfully in handcuffing them on arrest where they did not show signs of resisting arrest. In all three cases the arresting garda testified that the appellants were not agressive. But in the circumstances of the arrests they believed that handcuffing the appellants was necessary.

The District Court interpreted DPP v Cullen as authority that it is illegal to handcuff a suspected drink driver who did not resist arrest. And where that did occur the evidence recovered was inadmissible.

On appeal, the High Court reversed the trial judge’s decision on admissibility. Barrett J held that the trial judge had given insufficient latitude to the garda’s assessment of the necessity to use handcuffs in the circumstances of each case. The Court of Appeal upheld the High Court’s decision.

In seeking leave of the Supreme Court, the appellants argued that it was open to the trial judge to inquire into the objective reasonableness of the use of handcuffs. That the trial judge’s decisions were findings of fact, not a point of law. And an appeal from the District Court could only be made on a point of law. The Court determined that the appellants raised two issues of general public importance: the scope of an appeal under s 2 of the Summary Jurisdiction Act 1851, as amended; and the correct interpretation of DPP v Cullen—is the garda’s assessment of the necessity to use handcuffs an objective or subjective test?

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