Dáil Éireann - Volume 628 - 22 November, 2006

Written Answers. - Crime Levels.

Mr. Costello asked the Tánaiste and Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the number of drug offences which came before the [309] courts in 2005; the number of cases in which the mandatory minimum sentence could have been imposed; the number of cases in which it was actually imposed; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [39289/06]

  Mr. McDowell: I assume the information sought by the Deputy refers to cases before the Courts under section 15A of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977. According to figures made available to me from the Courts Service, during 2005 80 persons were convicted under section 15A of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977 as inserted by section 4 of the Criminal Justice Act 1999. Of these 10 (or 12.5%) received a sentence of 10 years or more as provided by section 27 of the 1977 Act.

Section 4 of the Criminal Justice Act 1999 inserted a new section 15A into the 1977 Act. It provides for an offence related to the possession of drugs with a value of €13,000 or more for the purpose of sale or supply. Section 5 (amending section 27 of the 1977 Act) provides for a maximum penalty of life imprisonment as well as for a mandatory minimum sentence of 10 years imprisonment for the offence under section 15A.

According to section 5, a court should not apply the mandatory minimum sentence where it is satisfied there are exceptional and specific circumstances which would make it unjust in all the circumstances to impose the minimum sentence of 10 years. Factors to which the court may have regard include whether the person pleaded guilty, the stage at which such an intention was indicated and the circumstances surrounding the indication and whether the person materially assisted the investigation of the offence.

In order to ensure that due regard is paid to the wishes of the Oireachtas that serious drug offences are severely punished, I have sought to strengthen these mandatory minimum provisions by way of the Criminal Justice Act 2006. Section 84 of the 2006 Act (which further amended section 27 of the 1977 Act) requires the court to take account of any previous convictions and also, whether the public interest in preventing drug trafficking is served by imposing a lesser sentence.

In addition, the 2006 Act provides that the 10 year minimum sentence must be imposed where the person has a previous conviction for an offence under either section 15A or the new offence under section 15B (inserted by section 82 of the 2006 Act) of importation of drugs with a value of €13,000 or more. I believe these amendments reflect the sentiments of the Oireachtas and are justified by the public interest in ensuring the strongest possible response to drug crime. The relevant provisions of the 2006 Act were commenced with effect from 1 August. It is too early at this stage to come to any conclusions as to their impact on sentencing for drug trafficking offences.