Irish Supreme Court overturns refusal to grant medical certificates allowing parents of disabled children to avail of tax back scheme

The Irish Supreme Court has quashed a refusal of the Disabled Drivers Medical Board of Appeal to grant medical certificates allowing the parents of two disabled children to avail of tax back under a scheme for disabled drivers and passengers. The Court also granted a declaration that in applying the criteria set out in the Disabled Drivers and Disabled Passengers (Tax Concessions) Regulations 1994 (the Regulations), the respondents failed to vindicate the rights of the plaintiffs under section 92 Finance Act 1989 (the 1989 Act).

The two children in this case were severely and permanently disabled.  Section 92 of the 1989 Act empowers the Minister for Finance to make regulations that allow for severely and permanently disabled persons or their families to obtain tax back in respect of specially adapted vehicles driven or used by them. The families of both children were denied medical certificates which would have allowed them to obtain tax back on the basis that they did not meet the medical criteria set out in the Regulations. These refusals were upheld in the High Court and the Court of Appeal.

The question in the Supreme Court was whether the power of the Minister to make regulations that provide for the criteria for eligibility for the scheme “including such further medical criteria in relation to disabilities as may be considered necessary” permitted the Minister to determine that only those with certain severe and permanent disabilities would be eligible for the tax back scheme. The Court in overturning the previous decisions pointed out that “further” medical criteria are to be provided by the Minister only if these were considered “necessary”. There was nothing in section 92 to suggest either that limiting the potential class of beneficiaries of the scheme could be considered necessary or to provide principles or policies by reference to which the Minister could narrow down the beneficiaries. To interpret section 92 as enabling the Minister to make what could amount to a “personal choice as to the qualifying conditions would be to fall foul of the principles identified in the authorities on Article 15.2 (of the Constitution) and delegated legislation.”

The Court highlighted the absence in section 92 of any suggestion that it would be permissible to discriminate between persons who are severely and permanently disabled based on the cause of their disability. It was held that one would have to ask what the purpose of the legislation would be if it permitted the Minister to determine that only those who have a specified disability could qualify. The Court noted that the purpose of section 92 is to assist with the transport of severely and permanently disabled persons.

The Court concluded that limiting the class of beneficiaries was not within the terms of section 92 nor was it within the contemplation of the legislature.

Click here for the judgment in Reeves & Anor -v- Disabled Drivers Medical Board of Appeal & Ors, Lennon & Anor -v- Disabled Drivers Medical Board of Appeal & Ors.



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