The purpose of this Bill, now passed by Dáil Éireann, is simply to amend some provisions in the Medical Practitioners Act, 1978, and the Road Traffic (Amendment) Act, 1978, to ensure that those provisions are placed beyond doubt. The need for this Bill stems from issues which arose in the context of prosecutions for drink driving offences. The issues relate to the form in which the register of medical practitioners was maintained by the Medical Council under the Medical Practitioners Act, 1978, and the certification procedures arising from that. The purpose of the Bill is to give express authority to the Medical Council to keep the general register on computer and also to give express authority to the registrar of the council to issue certificates attesting to matters contained in the register.
The Bill also amends the Road Traffic (Amendment) Act, 1978, to extend the presumption that certain persons are registered medical practitioners to include proceedings where persons are charged with offences of refusing or failing to provide a specimen of blood or urine to a registered general practitioner. At present, that presumption only applies for the purposes of prosecutions under sections 49 or 50 of the Road Traffic Act, 1961. Prosecutions under these sections relate to the offences of driving or being in charge of a mechanically propelled vehicle while under the influence of an intoxicant or where the blood or urine alcohol level exceeds specified maximum limits. The amendments contained in the Bill extend the presumption to all circumstances where a person refuses to co-operate in the giving of a specimen of blood or urine.
Taken as a whole, the Bill seeks to tighten up provisions of both the medical practitioners and road traffic legislation which will assist in road traffic and, indeed, any other legal proceedings.
The reason for bringing forward amending legislation at this stage is to copperfasten the provision in the Medical Practitioners Act relating to the form of the register and to make suitable provision for certification of entries contained in the register. If left unattended to, these have the possibility for endangering the success of prosecutions for drink driving offences under road traffic legislation. I have been advised that this matter should be dealt with urgently in association with the Road Traffic Bill, 1993, which, I understand, is before the Dáil today.
It is worth pointing out that the amendments to the drink driving legislation are repeated in the Road Traffic Bill, 1993, and these amendments will only operate pending the enactment of the road traffic legislation. Members will have an opportunity during the debate on that Bill to raise points of detail on those aspects.
For the purpose of clarity, the two amendments to the Road Traffic Act contained in this Bill are, I am advised by the Attorney General, necessary immediately to put prosecutions beyond doubt but they will be contained in the more comprehensive Road Traffic Bill, 1993, which, if given a Second Reading in the other House, will go to a Special Committee and eventually will come to this House. It was thought inappropriate to wait for that legislation to be enacted lest there be any doubt in relation to the prosecution of those involved in drink driving.
The provisions of the Bill are straightforward. The first part of section 2 gives express authority to the Medical Council to keep the general register of medical practitioners on computer which, in this day and age I suggest, can only be considered non-controversial.
The remainder of the section, section 2 (2A) reintroduces a provision that appeared in somewhat similar form originally in the Medical Practitioners Act, 1927. It provides, among other things, that a certificate from the registrar of the council attesting to an entry in the register shall be evidence of the matters attested to unless the contrary is shown. In other words, it will not be necessary, if a certificate from the Registrar of the Medical Council saying that somebody is registered as a general practitioner is presented, for that general practitioner to present himself in court to swear under oath that he or she is a GP. Apart from any other reason, the certification provision is vital in the context of the register existing, for all practical purposes, in computerised form. It is a standard provision in legislation of this and similar kinds where records, written or computerised, are referred to.
So far as the health professions are concerned, a provision along these lines is included in the Nurses Act and Dentists Act, both of which date from 1985. The Registrar of the Medical Council has been issuing certificates relating to the registration of the doctors since the council commenced operations. These are required for general certification purposes, such as for employers, for purposes of working abroad, for taking higher level examinations and for any number of reasons. In the context of legal proceedings, where the success or failure of a case may depend on the legal status of a certificate issued by the Registrar of the Medical Council, it is clear that there can be no room for equivocation.
Section 3 is a consequential amendment relating to the computerised form of the register. Sections 4 and 5 contain the amendments to the Road Traffic (Amendment) Act, 1978. Section 4 brings the offence in section 17 of that Act into line with the offences in sections 13 and 14. It puts beyond doubt that it is an offence to refuse or fail to comply with a requirement of a registered medical practitioner in relation to the provision of a specimen of urine. Section 5 extends the presumption that persons are registered medical practitioners to prosecutions for refusal offences under the Act.
I am satisfied that this short Bill fundamentally ensures that a number of issues relating to the general register of medical practitioners are placed beyond doubt. I commend the Bill to the House.