Wednesday, 25 January 2012

Questions (179, 180)

Jonathan O'Brien

Question:

180 Deputy Jonathan O’Brien asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the number of life sentences handed down by the courts during each of the past five years. [4298/12]

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Written answers (Question to Minister for Justice and Equality)

Under the provisions of the Courts Service Act 1998, the Courts Service is independent in the performance of its functions including the provision of statistical information. The Deputy will also appreciate that judges are independent in the matter of sentencing as they are in other matters concerning the exercise of judicial functions, subject only to the Constitution and the law.

However, in order to be of assistance to the Deputy I have made enquiries and from the statistics available, the Courts Service has informed me that 94 life sentences were imposed by the Central Criminal Court during the last five years for which annual figures are available. A detailed breakdown is set out in the table:

Year

Murder Cases

Rape Cases

Other

Total Number of Life Sentences

2010

16

2

0

18

2009

18

3

1

22

2008

16

1

0

17

2007

17

2

0

19

2006

17

1

0

18

Total

84

9

1

94

As the Deputy may be aware murder carries a mandatory life sentence, however, life imprisonment is also available as a sentencing option for other serious crimes such as rape. It should be noted that a person convicted in the Central Criminal Court may obtain leave to appeal a sentence to the Court of Criminal Appeal. It is also important to note that a sentence of life imprisonment means that the prisoner is subject to that sentence for the rest of his or her life. Imposing multiple life sentences does not increase the severity of the sanction and has no effect in practice or law.

While a prisoner who has been given a life sentence may apply for some form of temporary release to the Parole Board, should this be granted he or she remains subject to the original sentence and can be recalled to prison at any stage. Issues such as the gravity of the crime and the danger to the public posed by the individual would obviously be taken into consideration before any decision to grant temporary release is made. There is no automatic right to temporary release and prisoners who have committed particularly grievous crimes and continue to pose a threat can be kept in custody indefinitely.

Jonathan O'Brien

Question:

181 Deputy Jonathan O’Brien asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the number of mandatory sentences passed by the courts during each of the past five years. [4299/12]

View answer

Under the provisions of the Courts Service Act 1998, the Courts Service is independent in the performance of its functions including the provision of statistical information. The Deputy will also appreciate that judges are independent in the matter of sentencing as they are in other matters concerning the exercise of judicial functions, subject only to the Constitution and the law.

The traditional approach to sentencing is for the Oireachtas to lay down the maximum penalty and for a court having considered all the circumstances of the case to impose an appropriate penalty up to that maximum. There are a small number of situations, however, where statute has created important exceptions to this approach. There is a strictly mandatory sentencing requirement for murder and other provisions, relating to drug trafficking and firearms offences where a mandatory minimum sentence applies.

Where the court is satisfied that there are exceptional and specific circumstances which would make a particular minimum sentence unjust, a lesser sentence can be applied. The type of circumstances which a court may consider would include whether and when the accused pleaded guilty and whether they assisted the investigation of the offence. In the case of certain second and subsequent drug trafficking or firearms offences the mandatory minimum sentence must be applied.

In order to be of assistance to the Deputy I have made enquiries and from the statistics available, the Courts Service has informed me that 84 mandatory life sentences were imposed by the Central Criminal Court during the last five years for which figures are available. A detailed breakdown of the figures is set out in the table:

Year

No. of cases where a life sentence was imposed

2010

16

2009

18

2008

16

2007

17

2006

17

Total

84

Section 27 of the Misuse of Drugs Act 1977, as amended, provides for a mandatory minimum sentence or to give it its more correct name, presumptive minimum sentence, of not less than 10 years imprisonment for certain offences. The following table provides the Deputy with a breakdown of the number of convictions under the Act in the Circuit Court, and the number of cases where a sentence of 10 years or more was imposed during each of the last five years for which figures are available.

Year

*Number of Cases where a sentence of 10 years or more was imposed

2010

36

2009

42

2008

37

2007

23

2006

10

Total

148

*The Deputy should note that the number of cases where a sentence of 10 years or more was imposed includes cases where part of the sentence was suspended or conditions were to be met.

In the case of firearm offences, the Courts Service has informed me that court statistics on presumptive minimum or mandatory minimum sentences are not maintained. I should add that the Law Reform Commission has recently published a consultation paper on this subject. I look forward to receiving the recommendations of the Law Reform Commission in due course and those recommendations will be given full consideration.