Momentum building against s. 15A

24th October 2011


In today’s Irish Times law pages, Carol Coulter presents valuable and interesting analysis of two recent Court of Criminal Appeal decisions on sentencing in drug cases (prosecutions under section 15a of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977 as amended). IPRT’s Research and Policy Officer Jane Mulcahy has already carried out a similar analysis on these cases in the prison law bulletin sent to prison lawyers last Friday. These decisions demonstrate once again the difficulties surrounding Irish sentencing law in this area.

Very significantly, just yesterday the outgoing Director of Public Prosecutions, James Hamilton gave a lengthy interview with The Sunday Business Post [‘The Prosecution Rests’ by John Burke, 23rd Oct 2011] where he also voiced his scepticism about section 15a of the Misuse of Drugs Act.

Opposition to mandatory sentencing has been a key concern of IPRT’s work over many years. The first priority for us was to resist any further extension of the type of law introduced in the late 90s and the early part of the last decade. A second phase was to convince members of all political parties of the problems associated with mandatory and presumptive sentencing – this has been achieved in the Programme for Government and in his recent IPRT Annual Lecture, Minister Shatter referred to international research on the wastefulness of mandatory sentencing.

So now we have the Director of Public Prosecutions, the legal professions, several members of the judiciary, international evidence and IPRT all stacked up against the current legislative framework, and the current Government committed to reviewing the law in this area. The Law Reform Commission is due to publish a consultation paper on mandatory sentencing shortly, and IPRT is now planning the next phase in our campaigning work against this harmful and wasteful law. During the next month, we will be publishing a discussion document on drugs policy which will show that, as the DPP has suggested, the impact of the law to date has been to fill our prisons with low level operatives in the drug trade.

It is time to end this legal and social travesty.

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