Dáil Éireann - Volume 507 - 01 July, 1999
Written Answers. - Sentencing Policy.
Mr. J. Bruton Mr. J. Bruton
214. Mr. J. Bruton asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if he will make provision to issue detailed non-binding sentence guidelines to judges in regard to all offences in order to mitigate the current inconsistency in sentencing and promote non-custodial alternatives in a socially responsible way. [16283/99]
Mr. O'Donoghue Mr. O'Donoghue
Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform (Mr. O'Donoghue): 1 would refer the Deputy to my reply to Parliamentary Question Nos. 61, 74 and 83 of 15 June 1999.
The courts are, subject only to the Constitution and the law, independent in the exercise of their judicial functions and I, as a member of the Executive, am precluded from intervening directly.
Under our legal system, the law provides generally for maximum penalties for criminal offences. The law enables the Judge to exercise his discretion, within the maximum penalty, by reference to the conclusions he or she has reached after trying the case, hearing all the evidence and assessing the culpability and circumstances of the accused. Our system of recruitment to all levels of the judiciary is based on the concept of bringing in experienced and trained legal
practitioners and, consequently, judges, on appointment, have a wide knowledge of the law and its application. In so far as consistency of sentencing is concerned, I consider it important to mention that the Criminal Justice Act, 1993, provides that the Director of Public Prosecutions may apply to the court for a review of what appears to the director, to be an unduly lenient sentence.
The complex question of sentencing policy was addressed at length by the Law Reform Commission who specifically recommended against the introduction of statutory sentencing guide lines. Their report pointed out a number of differences of opinion among members of the commission in relation to some of the recommendations in that report which tends to underline the obvious complexities which arise in relation to sentencing policy.
The Courts and Court Officers Act, 1995, enables me to provide funds for judicial training courses arranged by the Judiciary and, this year, I made £60,000 available to the Judicial Studies Institute, which was established by the Chief Justice for the purposes of judicial training. I understand that the issue of sentencing has been examined by the institute in the context of its training programme.
I might also mention that section 36 of the Courts (Supplemental Provisions) Act, 1961, makes provision for meetings of District Court judges to discuss, inter alia, the avoidance of undue divergence in the exercise of the jurisdiction of the court and the general level of fines and penalties. While there is no similar provision in the case of other courts, I understand they hold similar meetings.
The Sixth Report of the Working Group on a Courts Commission also made reference to the issue of sentencing. The working group suggests that judicial education could be addressed by a judicial standards body in liaison with the Judicial Studies Institute. This new body could, inter alia, provide a monitoring and analytical service on matters such as sentencing along the lines of the Judicial Commission in New South Wales. I am pleased to inform the House, in this regard, that the Chief Justice has established a judicial committee to consider, inter alia, the recommendations made in the working group report and the Judicial Committee met on 19 May 1999.
Dáil Éireann 507 Written Answers. Sentencing Policy.