Monday, 9 April 2012

what is clearly a move to decongest Portugal’s courts and speed up the country’s justice system, the Attorney-General Pinto Monteiro is calling for drunk drivers to be punished for their transgressions by settling out of court.

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The procedure prosecutors are being encouraged to follow is explained in a 19-page document circulated by the Attorney-General, but it has already been met with stiff opposition.
Reacting to the announcement the chairman of the Portuguese Automobile Club (ACP) this week said he was against the fact that only punitive measures such as community service, a fine in the shape of a donation or a rehabilitation course are included in this circular while there is no mention of the loss of a driver’s licence.
Carlos Barbosa argues that only courts can take a driver’s licence away and as such, the move does not serve as a deterrent for people to drink and drive.
He added that it “is merely an administrative measure and its purpose is solely to alleviate congested courtrooms.”
Instead, the ACP chief has called for stronger penalties and not what could be perceived as lighter ones, especially as more than 60 people are detected each day on Portuguese roads with alcohol levels above the legally-accepted limit.
Latest available figures show that traffic law enforcement authorities recorded 23,274 cases of driving under the influence in 2011, an increase of 5.5 percent on the previous year.
Driving under the influence of alcohol or an illegal substance is the fifth most common crime registered by Portugal’s police forces.
But the chairman of the Portuguese law society, António Marinho Pinto has come out in support of the move, saying it should have been brought into practice “a long time ago” and should be extended to cover other “minor offences.”
It is believed a handful of courts in Portugal are already following this procedure, such as those in Montijo and Angra do Heroísmo.
In the meantime, the Attorney-General’s office has since clarified that out-of-court settlements will also involve an agreement signed by offending drivers not to take to the wheel of their cars for a pre-defined period.
Transgressors of this bona fide commitment will end up having their day in court.
In the document, the Attorney-General tells prosecutors to take into account a series of factors and criteria when ‘negotiating’ with offenders.
The value of the alcohol reading, the driver’s age, profession, type of vehicle driven, the cause of driving under the influence, previous driving record and the risks posed to the safety of fellow motorists are all listed by Pinto Monteiro for prosecutors to consider before deciding on which course of legal action should be taken.
However, drivers detected with high levels of alcohol, should not be allowed to escape the wrath of the country’s courts, and will not be entitled to resolution of their case without facing a judge.
In addition, a road traffic collision involving a driver who is found to be under the influence, irrespective of the level of intoxication and damage caused will also result in a court date being set.

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