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The use of suspended sentences by Irish courts is up for debate

The Law Reform Commission is seeking views on their use.

The Four Courts building in Dublin.
The Four Courts building in Dublin.
Image: Niall Carson/PA Images

THE LAW REFORM Commission (LRC) has said that it is seeking feedback on the use of suspended sentences.

The LRC today publishes a research paper on the use of suspended sentences in the Irish legal system and notes that there has been a decrease in their use in recent years.

A suspended sentence allows a judge to issue a jail term but specify that it not be activated for a period of time providing the person complies with a series of conditions.

These conditions can include the avoidance of another conviction or perhaps staying away from a certain individual.

The LRC paper describes suspended sentences as “an important sentencing option” but notes that there are some convictions for which they are not suitable or permitted.

These offences included murder and some drugs and firearms offences.

The research also refers to a series of decisions from the appeal courts in the last 20 years where a suspended sentence was deemed not suitable. These decisions include individual cases of rape and manslaughter.

The research looked at sentencing information from the Courts Service for the past decade and made a number of findings.

“In general, the Circuit Court and the District Court impose custodial offences in the majority of cases involving serious offences,” the LRC states.

This means that suspended sentences are used less often in such cases and are more commonly used in less serious cases.

The LRC also found that there has been a percentage decrease in the use of suspended sentences in recent years but that “it is not clear the precise reasons for this”.

The research also looked at the use of suspended sentences in two corporate offences, convictions under competition law and under safety and health law. It found that all jail terms in these cases have been suspended and that no person has been imprisoned to date.

The LRC is an independent body that reviews and debates issues relating to Irish law. It is seeking views from interested parties on the use of suspended sentences.

Read: ‘Dealing with a loved one’s death is difficult, but a murder poses special problems’ >

Read: Irish law around suspended sentences ruled unconstitutional >

About the author:

Rónán Duffy

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