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Sinn Féin to table Sentencing Guidelines Amendment to Judicial Council Bill – Ó Laoghaire

24 March, 2018 - by Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire TD

Sinn Féin have submitted amendments to the Judicial Council Bill to ensure that prison sentences are proportionate to the crime committed by putting in place a Sentencing Information and Guidelines Council.

The amendments, which have been drafted by Sinn Féin Justice Spokesperson Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire TD, would put in place a system, whereby the Committee would develop and circulate guidelines for sentences for offences and that there would be a statutory obligation for the Judges to have regard to these Guidelines.

Speaking today, Teachta Ó Laoghaire said;

“It is vitally important that the public have confidence that our courts will hand down appropriate sentences, that are proportionate to the crimes committed.

“Unfortunately, that is currently not the case. There are wide disparities in a number of areas, including sexual offences, some sentences which have drawn considerable comment and, indeed, anger. There are undoubtedly issues relating to inconsistency, leniency, and light sentences.

“In other areas too, there are problems, such as assault, and in road traffic issues, such as highlighted by RTÉ’s Prime Time. There is research on judicial sentencing habits conducted that has shown sentence lengths ranging from fourteen days to five months in an assault case; while for a theft case, sentences ranged between thirty days and nine months and between two and twelve months in road traffic and burglary cases.

“As a result, the public does not trust our justice system to deliver punishments that fit the crime.

“As legislators, we have a duty to address what is a considerable issue in relation to our sentencing. It is our belief that collating, publishing and ensuring judges have these parameters is the best way to ensure consistency in sentencing.

“Sinn Féin have published a Bill in this regard previously, and I want to commend the significant work of Senator Padraig Mac Lochlainn who developed that. Clearly, the Judicial Council is the appropriate place to locate such a Committee, and so we have submitted detailed amendments to that effect.

“As this Bill is likely to pass in to Law, we believe it is also the best chance of sentencing guidelines coming in to being.

“While the Bill contains reference to a Sentencing Information Committee, it does not recommend the drafting of guidelines, or any obligation to have regard to them, and as such will be far too weak, and will not have the desired effect.

“Fianna Fáil have previously suggested they are in favour of such guidelines, so, with their support, I believe this amendment can pass.

“There are many in legal and academic circles, that favour such guidelines, and I am aware that the IPRT have favour such a proposal in the past also.

“The sentencing guidelines would reassure the public of the appropriateness of sentences for serious crimes. It would also ensure consistency and accountability across the court system.”

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