THE Mirror put the concerns about sentencing discrepancies and bail laws to Justice Minister, Dermot Ahern, who spoke to MARIE KIERANS.
CAN YOU BLAME THE IRISH PUBLIC FOR NOT HAVING CONFIDENCE IN OUR CRIMINAL JUSTICE SYSTEM?
MINISTER: I don't accept that the Irish public does not have confidence in the Gardai and the courts in dealing with criminals. Our criminal justice system matches or exceeds that found in other EU countries.
DO YOU BELIEVE THAT NEW GUIDELINES SHOULD BE ISSUED TO PREVENT INCONSISTENCIES IN SENTENCING?
MINISTER: The courts are responsible for decisions on sentences and must look at the particular circumstances in each individual case.
Because of the separation of powers between the Government and judges - built into the Constitution - it is not open to me to issue guidelines.
We all want to see consistency in sentencing.
To deal with any inconsistencies we have enacted legislation to allow the DPP appeal against unduly lenient sentences. In addition I have legislation (Criminal Procedure Bill 2009) before the Dail to allow appeals in special cases against verdicts of not guilty.
HOW CAN THE PUBLIC HAVE CONFIDENCE IN THE JUDICIAL SYSTEM WHEN SUSPECTS CHARGED WITH VERY SERIOUS CRIMES ARE ALLOWED OUT ON BAIL TO COMMIT EVEN MORE SERIOUS CRIMES?
MINISTER: I have concerns about people who have committed serious crimes while on bail and I am preparing new legislation to consolidate the bail laws. We amended the Constitution in 1996 to restrict certain accused people getting access to bail.
However, there are limits to what Ministers can do as, at the end of the day, the courts decide who is released on bail and who is remanded in custody pending trial.
Not everyone gets bail - there are nearly 700 people in custody today awaiting trial or sentencing.
AdVIC IS CALLING FOR THE INTRODUCTION OF MURDER BY DEGREE, DO YOU SUPPORT THIS?
MINISTER: I have not come to a final decision on the matter. I would have reservations about moving away from the existing system where every person convicted of murder automatically receives a life sentence.
THE GROUP ALSO WANTS MANDATORY LIFE SENTENCE WITH A MINIMUM OF 25 YEARS IN CASES OF FIRST DEGREE MURDER. ARE YOU IN FAVOUR OF THIS?
MINISTER: There is already a mandatory life sentence for murder. A person who is sentenced to life remains subject to that sentence for the rest of his life.
Those who continue to pose a danger will remain in prison for the rest of their lives.
GARDAI fuelling members It would now be unusual for even the least serious case of murder to get any form of temporary release before they have served in excess of 15 years in custody and they will be its recalled immediately to prison at any sign of trouble. added: on On 31 December 2009, there were 266 persons in custody serving life sentences.
The average time spent in custody by persons convicted of murder is now in excess of 17 years.
This compares with an average of just over 7.5 years for releases dating from 1975 to 1984, just under 12 years for the period dating from 1985 to 1994 and just under 14 years for the period dating from 1995 to 2004. As is clear from these figures life sentence prisoners are serving longer terms in custody.
WHAT IS YOUR VIEW ON THE FACT THAT A NUMBER OF CRIMINALS WHO KILLED AND WERE RELEASED EARLY WENT ON TO KILL AGAIN?
SHOULD WE NOT BE FOLLOWING OTHER JURISDICTIONS WHEREBY JUDGES ARE ALLOWED TO GIVE A RECOMMENDED SENTENCE. …