The Labour party launched its election manifesto, 'Standing Up for Ireland's Future', on Monday 15th February 2016. The manifesto can be accessed here. Below, IPRT analyses the most relevant proposals in '5.2 Law Reform', from p. 96. Labour makes an overriding commitment to "a society that promotes justice and fairness at all levels."
The Labour manifesto includes a number of detailed commitments in the area of Garda reform, victims' support, and the consolidation and modernisation of criminal law.
These include a proposed new Sentencing Bill, which will set out aggravating and mitigating circumstances to be taken into account, towards bringing more consistency in sentencing. IPRT welcomes that this proposed legislation will require that the court addresses the availability of non-incarceration options, and that sentencing data will be collated and made available. This proposal offers an alternative approach to issues of transparency and consistency in sentencing which other parties (Green Party, Fianna Fáil and Sinn Féin) have proposed to address through the establishment a Sentencing Council.
For more detail on sentencing guidelines, see here.
Labour make a number of commitments to better supporting victims throughout the criminal justice process. Victims are currently ill-served by the Irish criminal justice system, and IPRT supports commitments to implement the EU Victims Directive. This includes giving victims of serious crimes advance notice about the proposed release from prison of offenders, provided such disclosure does not facilitate harassment, retaliation or intimidation of those who have served their sentence or of their families.
IPRT believes that the transposition of the EU Directive should be informed by evidence based on best practice of what works to support victims while also facilitating the rehabilitation and re-integration of offenders. Both can be achieved.
For IPRT's submission on the EU Victims Directive, see here.
IPRT's position is that the criminal justice system should treat all transgressors in an equitable manner. This means that the crimes of the rich as well as the poor should be investigated, prosecuted and punished with equal vigour. Imprisonment should be the last resort for all categories of offender and not just those who come from the more privileged sections of society.
For more detail on IPRT's position on the disproportionate punishment of marginalised communities, and the evidence that informs it, see here.
Labour acknowledges the need to shift from over-reliance on costly prison sentences to more effective use of less costly non-custodial options, and greater use of open prisons. IPRT particularly welcomes the statement that prison must be a penalty of last resort for non-violent offenders, along with Labour's specific commitment to reducing the use of short prison sentences for minor, nonviolent crimes.
IPRT fully supports Labour's commitment to resourcing diversion projects and alternative sanctions for young people. Prison is particularly damaging for young adults, who are more amenable than adults to rehabilitation provided the right interventions are made - the wrong interventions can deepen offending behaviour. Supervised bail support, diversion programmes, intensive community orders, and restorative justice practices are among the more effective responses to crimes committed by young adults.
Finally, Labour commits to ending imprisonment for fines default -a damaging and wasteful practice- and to reform of prison law.
For more detail on IPRT's position on community sanctions and alternatives to prison, see here.
For more detail on IPRT's position on penal moderation, and the evidence that informs it, see here.
For more information about IPRT's research on more effective approaches to offending by young people aged 18-24, grounded in emerging evidence and best practice, see here.
For more information about IPRT's work in the area of prison law and litigation, see here.