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Families of homicide victims call for end of concurrent sentencing

“There is terrible inequality in the Irish justice system, where the rights of victims of homicide and their families constantly fall by the wayside,” say AdVIC.

Image: Sam Boal / Photocall Ireland

AN ADVOCACY GROUP for the victims of homicide has called for the practice of concurrent sentencing for killers to cease.

AdVIC held its annual general meeting today as it continues to lobby for legislation which will ensure that consecutive sentencing for offenders will operate on a statutory basis.

The families which the group represents want consecutive sentencing written as a presumption into law, removing judges’ discretion from the issue.

Today’s statement from AdVIC comes in the wake of a number of high profile cases where offenders received concurrent sentences after being convicted of unlawful killings and violent crimes.

The organisation cited the May 2010 case during which David Curran received concurrent life sentences for the murders of two Polish men - Pawel Kalite and Marius Szwajkos. This was “despite the fact that two lives were taken and the nature of the murders”, said AdVIC.

One of the group’s spokespeople, John Whelan said, “There is terrible inequality in the Irish justice system, where the rights of victims of homicide and their families constantly fall by the wayside.”

Whelan’s sister Sharon and nieces Zara and Nadia were murdered in 2008 in Kilkenny. Postman Brian Hennessy was found guilty of their murders but he was successful in an appeal to have the two life sentences handed down to him run concurrently.

In my own personal case, the murderer took the lives of three people yet only received one life sentence.  He was originally given two consecutive life sentences, but this was reduced to one on appeal – a decision which was uncontested by the State and that has never been explained to us to this day. Furthermore, he will be eligible for parole after seven years.

“Recent decisions such as the six year sentence received by a businessman for tax evasion over garlic imports stand in stark contrast to the lightweight sentences handed out to those guilty of homicide and manslaughter. Instead it is the families of murder victims that are left with the real life sentence,” added Whelan.

Urging Justice Minister Alan Shatter to look at the inadequacies within the justice system, he said the Government “appears unwilling to make a basic change which would restore some balance to victims and their families alike”.

The group also noted that there is a lack of consideration to the families of victims, as well as poor communications from the State with regard to procedures and the status of offenders.

“We are also particularly upset by recent incidents where prisoners who have been transferred to open prisons have absconded from custody. We ask what the logic for transferring such criminals to these low security institutions at any given point in their sentence is,” concluded Whelan.

The Minister for Justice this week revealed that three prisoners serving sentences for homicide offences are currently unlawfully at large after absconding from open jails.

In 2011, there were 42 murder and manslaughter offences recorded, six cases of attempted murder and 396 threats to murder.

Three prisoners serving sentence for homicide offences are ‘unlawfully at large’>

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