Thursday, 26 February 2004

Questions (55, 56)

Tom Hayes

Question:

53 Mr. Hayes asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform if he has satisfied himself with the consistency of sentences being passed down in the District Courts throughout the country; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6334/04]

View answer

Dan Neville

Question:

60 Mr. Neville asked the Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform the plans he has to introduce sentencing guidelines, specifically for summary offences; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [6349/04]

View answer

Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform)

I propose to take Questions Nos. 53 and 60 together.

Under our legal system, the law provides generally for maximum penalties for criminal offences. The law enables the judge to exercise his or her discretion, within the maximum penalty, by reference to the conclusions he or she has reached after hearing the case, including all the evidence and assessing the culpability and circumstances of the accused. I have no proposals to depart from this principle.

The complex question of sentencing policy was addressed at length by the Law Reform Commission which specifically recommended against the introduction of statutory sentencing guidelines. Its report pointed out a number of differences of opinion among members of the commission in relation to some of the recommendations in the report which tends to underline the obvious complexities which arise in relation to sentencing policy. There are, however, a number of provisions relating to the general area of sentencing which may be of interest to the Deputies.

In accordance with the provisions of the Courts and Court Officers Act 1995, funds have been made available to the Judicial Studies Institute, which was established by the Chief Justice for the purposes of judicial training. I understand that the issue of sentencing has been examined by the institute in the context of its training programme.

Section 36 of the Courts (Supplemental Provisions) Act 1961 makes provision for meetings of District Court judges to discuss, inter alia, the avoidance of undue divergence in the exercise of the jurisdiction of the court and the general level of fines and penalties.