Irish Penal Reform Trust

Law Reform Commission: Consultation Paper on Mandatory Sentences

19th January 2012

[Updated 20th January 2012]

The Law Reform Commission has today (19th January 2012) published a Consultation Paper on Mandatory Sentences. The Consultation Paper recommends that:

  • In murder sentences, the judges be allowed to recommend specific minimum term as part of a life sentence
  • that current minimum sentence law for drugs offences be reviewed because it has led to a bulge in prison population without any major effect on those at the top of the drugs industry
  • and that the proposed judicial councul should develop sentencing guidance and guidelines.

IPRT backs the call from the Law Reform Commission for the current minimum mandatory sentence for the possession of large quantities of drugs to be reviewed.

Irish prison numbers have rocketed since mandatory sentencing for drugs offences was introduced, and yet there is little evidence that there has been any positive impact in terms of decreasing drug crime. IPRT believes that the high cost and low effectiveness of mandatory sentencing in addressing drug crime demands a review, and IPRT has consistently called for a repeal of mandatory sentencing to allow judges to consider different levels of activity in the drug trade and the particular circumstances of each case.

IPRT also supports the Law Reform Commission’s recommendation that the proposed Judicial Council take the lead in setting sentencing guidelines, which we believe would lead to more consistency in sentencing, particularly at District Court level.

There are very important issues around the life sentence for murder, including whether there should be a mandatory life sentence for murder at all, and also how the current parole process operates. IPRT will be making detailed submissions to the consultation process on these issues.

IPRT has long been calling for a review of mandatory sentencing. In our Position Paper on Mandatory Sentencing, IPRT found that the practice:

  • removes the opportunity for judges to use their discretion and impose sentences that are appropriate in the particular circumstances of the case. Examples from other jurisdictions have shown that such restrictions on sentencing can lead to unjust punishment and breaches of human rights standards in the administration of justice.
  • Research in other jurisdictions shows that mandatory sentencing is ineffective as a deterrent, and impacts negatively on imprisonment rates. It has also proved to undermine the integrity of the criminal justice system, forcing judges, prosecutors, and defence lawyers to ‘negotiate justice’.
  • IPRT believes that mandatory and presumptive sentences should be removed from the statute book in Ireland. Instead, alternatives to mandatory sentencing should be introduced to address the concerns relating to the consistency, transparency and predictability of sentencing practice.

IPRT also dealt comprehensively with the issue in our submission to the White Paper on Crime: 3 - Organised and White Collar Crime. Among the features of the current legislative scheme that are especially problematic are: (i) the subjective financial categorisation of drugs; possession rather than control of drugs as the primary factor; and lack of a distinction between different types of drugs.

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