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Families of murder victims unhappy with sentencing and bail laws

Support group AdVic has called for a number of reforms, including minimum sentences for homicide.

Image: Four Courts Dublin via Shutterstock

ALMOST TWO THIRDS of families of murder victims are dissatisfied with sentencing regimes in Ireland, according to new research.

AdVIC (Advocates for Victims of Homicide), which commissioned the study, has called for a more balance and just criminal justice system.

Report author Cathriona Nash said there is a “general frustration and anger” levied at the State by the bereaved.

“In particular, the portrayal of victims in court cases is a cause of huge concern and distress to victims’ families. Many members feel that the criminal justice system is unfairly balanced in favour of the perpetrator,” she explained.

Issue about what constitutes a life sentence and lenient jail terms were also raised during the qualitative research project.

“These research findings indicate that little has changed in relation to the rights of victims of homicide, and those of their families, since AdVIC’s inception in 2005,” continued Nash. “While there has been some reforms in the system, namely guaranteed seating for victims’ families in court and the entitlement of families of homicide victims to make a victim impact statement, AdVIC members are seeking much greater reform.”

The research found that 65 per cent of families were not satisfied with the length of the sentence given to the convicted killer, while the same percentage believe a minimum sentence should be introduced for homicide, something which Ireland’s Law Reform Commission agrees on.

Jill Meagher and Catherine Gowing

Three-quarters of those surveyed believe that the State “more often than not” pursued lesser charges of manslaughter “in order to achieve a conviction”, while 73 per cent want the abolition of concurrent sentencing.

An overwhelming majority of 90 per cent of families stated their unhappiness over current bail laws. As was seen in Australia in the recent Jill Meagher case, a number of respondents to the AdVic study revealed that their loved ones had been victims of homicide while the perpetrator was out on bail for other criminal offences.

An even greater number are strongly opposed to the transfer of prisoners convicted of homicide to an open prison, at any stage of their jail term. Families want to be kept informed by the Prison Service about any movements of prisoners, especially any impending releases.

John O’Keeffe, special advisor to the advocacy group, noted that the recent case in Wales where Clive Sharp – who murdered Irish vet Catherine Gowing – received a minimum sentence of 37 years was “welcomed as it sent a clear signal to society that justice has been served”.

Asked about their own personal experiences, 13 per cent revealed they never returned to work because of their bereavement. One in five said their relationship with a partner or spouse broke up because of the death in the family.

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