Dáil Éireann - Volume 515 - 07 March, 2000

Other Questions. - Prisoner Transfers.

16. Mr. Higgins (Mayo) asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if an application has been made for the transfer to a British prison of a person (details supplied) convicted of a double murder; the conditions which will attach if this request has been made and granted; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6753/00]

Mr. O'Donoghue: It is long-standing practice not to comment in detail on the case of any individual prisoner. I can confirm, however, that the prisoner concerned has applied for a transfer to [1361] the United Kingdom to serve his sentence under the provisions of the Transfer of Sentenced Persons Act, 1995. This Act enables the transfer of prisoners to and from this jurisdiction to allow them serve their sentences in their own country as provided for by the Council of Europe Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons.

The Convention on the Transfer of Sentenced Persons requires that extensive documentation be exchanged between both jurisdictions in order to allow an application to be fully considered. Three-way consent is also required to enable any transfer to take place, that is, from the authorities of both jurisdictions and from the prisoner concerned.

To be considered for transfer, the following conditions must be satisfied in every case: the person must be a national of the country to which he or she wants to be transferred or have sufficiently close ties to that country to warrant a transfer; the sentence imposed must be final and there must be no further charges outstanding; there must normally be at least six months of the sentence left to serve; and the offence must also be a crime in the home country.

The UK authorities set a tariff for all prisoners sentenced to life imprisonment in England and Wales, that is, a minimum period of time to be served by the prisoner before the case is submitted to their parole board. A transferred life sentence prisoner would be treated in the same way. Prior to giving final consent to a transfer application, I would be advised by the Home Secretary of a provisional tariff to be set on a life sentence prisoner. In the event of a transfer, the prisoner's tariff would be then confirmed by the UK authorities.

In this case my Department is in the process of collating the necessary documentation and reports required under the convention. When this has been completed and if the criteria outlined are satisfied, the prisoner's application will be forwarded to the United Kingdom authorities for their consideration.

It is not standard practice to seek to attach conditions to any transfer. The principle underpinning the convention is that once a transfer takes place, the home jurisdiction manages the sentence in accordance with its laws. However, where a prisoner serving a life sentence is to be transferred to the United Kingdom, I would have to be satisfied that the proposed tariff is appropriate.

Mr. Higgins (Mayo): Given that the individual in question was convicted of the brutal murder of a young husband and wife in the presence of their children in County Roscommon, will the Minister do everything possible to ensure that, if and when the transfer takes place, he will extract from the British authorities a categorical guarantee that the individual will serve his full sentence less whatever the standard remission which would apply in this jurisdiction?

[1362] Mr. O'Donoghue: If a person is transferred under this legislation, the issue of the individual's release, but on reaching his tariff only, would obviously be a matter for the United Kingdom authorities. My understanding is that for all prisoners sentenced to life in England and Wales, the UK authorities also set a tariff, that is, a minimum time which is to be served by the individual concerned. Prior to giving the final consent to any transfer application, I would be advised of the provisional tariff to be imposed on a life sentenced prisoner being transferred. Obviously, the prisoner would also be advised prior to giving his or her consent to the return to the United Kingdom. The provisional tariff would be based on the circumstances of the crime, as set out in the information provided by the Department. The UK Ministers would set the tariff taking into account the views of the Lord Chief Justice of England. Once the prisoner was returned to England, the tariff would be confirmed by the Ministers.

As with all life sentenced prisoners in England and Wales, a transferred prisoner would have an opportunity to make representations about the length of the tariff he or she would have to serve before being considered for release. My understanding is that the average length of time served by released life sentenced prisoners in the United Kingdom is fairly similar to our 13 to 14 years.