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Judges to get new sentencing guidelines after Sinn Féin deal with government

It is hoped that the bill will be at committee stage before the end of the current Dáil term.

Image: Shutterstock/FabrikaSimf

JUDGES WILL BE given new non-binding sentencing guidelines for the first time as part of a deal Sinn Féin has struck with the government.

The deal will see Sinn Féin voting in favour of the Judicial Appointments Commission Bill in exchange for the government introducing sentencing guidelines in the Judicial Council Bill.

Both sides had been in negotiations on Shane Ross’s bill for some time and it is believed that Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan has been assured that guidelines would not interfere with the independence of the judiciary. It is understood that Flanagan had consulted the Attorney General on the constitutionality of the issue.

Speaking today Sinn Féin Justice Spokesperson, Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire said:

“This is a very significant breakthrough particularly for victims of crimes. Far too often we have seen victims feeling severely wronged as the perpetrators of the crime have been faced with inadequate, and inappropriate sentencing.

“No one would envy the judiciary the job of devising sentences, whether for minor crimes, or serious crimes. The majority of judges balance these considerations well.

“However it is important that there is public confidence in and understanding of, the approach taken to sentencing.

“Indeed recently, a High Court Judge has described the lack of sentencing guidelines in rape cases as ‘somewhat bizarre’.”

Sentencing guidelines are common in many countries, and have been supported by organisations such as the Rape Crisis Network, the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, the Irish Penal Reform Trust and the Irish Council of Civil Liberties. However, there is no statutory footing for them in Ireland.

Ross’s bill will allow for a new process for appointing judges, with the establishment of a new body to handle it.

It is hoped that the Judicial Council Bill will be at committee stage before the end of the current Dáil term. The Judicial Appointments Commission Bill is expected to pass the Dáil this week.

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