30th June 2021
IPRT drafted this short briefing on the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Bill 2021 in advance of debate at Committee Stage. The Bill seeks to implement the Supreme Court ruling in Wayne Ellis v Minister for Justice  IESC 030 and repeal those provisions relating to mandatory minimum sentences that apply when an offender commits a second or subsequent offence under the relevant legislation.
IPRT’s view is that the Bill provides an opportunity to go further than simply repealing these limited provisions, and could be amended to institute more wide-ranging penal reform.
Further explanation as to the reasons behind IPRT’s opposition to mandatory and presumptive minimum sentencing is available in our 2013 Mandatory Sentencing position paper (due to be updated soon). In brief, reasons include the fact that: (i) there is no evidence mandatory or presumptive minimum sentences act as an effective deterrent to crime; and (ii) mandatory and presumptive minimum sentencing regimes contribute to rising imprisonment rates, which in turn costs more for the taxpayer with little evidence for its effectiveness in reducing crime.
The key amendments IPRT would like to see in the Bill are as follows:
Section 2 of the Criminal Justice Act 1960 (as amended by the Criminal Justice (Temporary Release of Prisoners) Act 2003) allows the Minister for Justice to grant temporary release to prisoners, and sets out the factors to be considered when deciding whether to authorise such release. There currently exists, however, a statutory bar on temporary release for people convicted of certain drug and firearms offences. (Further detail in the full briefing docu.) IPRT has long campaigned for the removal of these provisions which continue to exclude certain categories of prisoners from eligibility for temporary release (see e.g. p.23 of IPRT’s 2012 ‘Reform of Remission, Temporary Release and Parole’ position paper).
The Strategic Review of Penal Policy recommended in their July 2014 report that “the prohibition on temporary release for those offenders who receive the presumptive mandatory sentence for a drugs or firearms offence should be removed” (Rec 29) and that “the prohibition on temporary release for persons sentenced to the presumptive minimum sentence should be repealed” (Rec 34).
IPRT believes that this Bill presents an opportunity to go further than simply comply with the Wayne Ellis case, and could be used to also repeal all presumptive minimum sentences as exist in the Firearms Act 1925, the Firearms Act 1964, the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977, the Firearms and Offensive Weapons Act 1990 and the Criminal Justice Act 2007.
Such amendments would be in line with IPRT’s consistent advocacy against the use of mandatory and presumptive minimum sentences. The Law Reform Commission and the Strategic Review of Penal Policy have also criticised presumptive minimum sentencing regimes.
Read the IPRT Briefing on the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Bill 2021 here.