EMBARGO MIDNIGHT MONDAY 10th JUNE 2013
LAW REFORM COMMISSION PUBLISHES REPORT ON MANDATORY SENTENCES
REPORT recommends THAT: A JUDICIAL COUNCIL SHOULD DEVELOP SENTENCING GUIDANCE OR GUIDELINES, BUILDING ON THE IRISH SENTENCING INFORMATION SYSTEM (isis); THAT IN MURDER CASES THE MANDATORY LIFE SENTENCE SHOULD BE RETAINED AND THAT THE SENTENCING JUDGE SHOULD BE ALLOWED TO RECOMMEND A SPECIFIC MINIMUM TERM; AND THAT THE CURRENT PRESUMPTIVE MINIMUM SENTENCES FOR CERTAIN DRUGS AND FIREARMS OFFENCES SHOULD BE REPEALED
Tuesday 11th June 2013: The Law Reform Commission’s Report on Mandatory Sentences will be launched by Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy, judge of the High Court, at the Criminal Courts of Justice, Dublin, at 4.30pm today. The Report contains the Commission’s final recommendations in response to a request from the Attorney General under the Law Reform Commission Act 1975 to examine the law on mandatory sentences.
Detailed analysis of the law on mandatory sentences and sentencing principles
The Report contains a detailed analysis of the development of the law in Ireland on mandatory sentences, as well as analysis of similar laws in other jurisdictions such as the UK and US. The Commission’s Report discusses in detail: (1) the specific aims of criminal sanctions, which include deterrence, punishment, reform and rehabilitation, reparation, and incapacitation; and (2) the key principles in sentencing of consistency and proportionality. The Report contains a detailed analysis of sentencing guidance given by Irish courts in recent years, which have included: (a) the points of departure in the sentencing of certain serious offences, such as manslaughter, rape and robbery; (b) sentencing ranges for serious offences; and (c) factors that aggravate and mitigate the gravity of an offence and severity of a sentence. These key principles of sentencing law form the basis for the Commission’s responses to the Attorney General’s request.
The Commission notes that the only completely mandatory sentence in Ireland is the life sentence for murder – judges have no discretion here and must impose a life sentence. They do not even have the power to suggest any specific minimum sentence, unlike the position in other jurisdictions. For example, in Northern Ireland the sentencing judge can recommend a minimum term that must be served before an offender is eligible for parole (as in the recent case of former dentist Colin Howell, where the judge recommended a 21 year minimum term).
The Commission also examined other “presumptive” mandatory sentences, such as those introduced in 1999 for certain drugs offences and in 2006 for certain firearms offences. The drugs offence law states that 10 years should be imposed where the “street value” is over €13,000, but also allows for a lesser sentence in exceptional and specific circumstances. The Commission also examined other mandatory sentences law which require judges to impose higher or consecutive sentences where the convicted person is, for example, a repeat offender.
The main recommendations in the Report are:
- the Commission supports previous recommendations (including in the 2011 Report of the Thornton Hall Review Group) that a Judicial Council should be able to develop and publish suitable guidance or guidelines on sentencing; and that these would have regard to decisions of the Supreme Court and the Court of Criminal Appeal, to the sentencing principles discussed in the Report, and to information in databases such as the Court Service’s Irish Sentencing Information System (ISIS).
- the Commission recommends that the mandatory life sentence for murder should be retained.
- the Commission recommends that where an offender is convicted of murder, and is therefore sentenced to life imprisonment, legislation should provide that the judge may recommend a minimum term to be served by the offender.
- the Commission also recommends that the Parole Board should be established on an independent statutory basis, and welcomes the Government’s proposal to introduce legislation bringing about this effect.
- the Commission recommends that the presumptive sentencing regime that applies to certain drugs and firearms offences should be repealed and should not be extended to any other offences. The Report notes that the presumptive drugs offences regime has had the following results: the adaptation of the illegal drugs trade to the sentencing regime by using expendable couriers to hold and transport drugs; that these relatively low-level offenders, rather than those at the top of the illegal drugs trade, are being apprehended and dealt with under the presumptive regime; a high level of guilty pleas in order to avoid the presumptive minimum sentence; and a consequent increase in the prison system comprising low-level drugs offenders. The Commission also recommends that a more structured, guidance-based sentencing system (as envisaged in the first recommendation mentioned above) would provide an appropriate alternative to these provisions. In the context of drug-related crime, the Commission also considers that law enforcement efforts may be beneficially supplemented by other initiatives, such as those highlighted in the research conducted by the Health Research Board and the Misuse of Drugs work sector of the British-Irish Council.
- the Commission recommends that the existing legislation concerning mandatory sentences (and, where relevant, presumptive sentences) that applies in the case of second and subsequent offences should also be repealed and should not be extended to any other offences. The Commission also recommends that the more structured, guidance-based sentencing system (as envisaged in the Report) would provide an appropriate alternative to these provisions.
Link to Report