As the Deputy will appreciate, judges are independent in the matter of sentencing, as in other matters concerning the exercise of judicial functions, subject only to the Constitution and the law. As a general rule, the court is required to impose a sentence which is proportionate not only to the crime but to the individual offender. In doing so, the Court identifies where on the sentencing range the particular case should lie and then applies any mitigating factors which may be present.
Under the Judicial Council, a Sentencing Guidelines Committee was established on 30 June last year. The Committee is responsible for compiling guidelines designed to increase consistency in relation to criminal sentences and are working to progress this.
I can inform the Deputy that on the night of the 31 March 2022, there were 32 sentenced individuals in the Dóchas Centre (Mountjoy Female Prison) who had a most serious offence listed under Group 8 Theft and Related Offences and of these 16 were held on shoplifting charges.
Non-custodial penalties, particularly supervised community sanctions, play a significant and important role in addressing criminality, reducing reoffending and providing a degree of protection to the public. This is supported by Central Statistics Office figures on recidivism.
As part of the work to ensuring a coherent approach to enhancing and sustaining a more just and safe society, Government committed to reviewing policy options for prison and penal reform. The report of the cross-sectoral group tasked with undertaking this review is expected to be published shortly. Among the issues the group will make recommendations on is the on the appropriate use of non-custodial sanctions and the role they can play in addressing criminality, reducing reoffending and providing protection to the public while holding the individual accountable.
As the Deputy will be aware, the Criminal Justice (Community Sanctions) Bill 2014 seeks to update the Probation of Offenders Act 1907. The aim of the new Bill is to provide a modern statement of the law governing community sanctions, and the role of the Probation Service in the criminal justice system. It will facilitate the effective and efficient use of community sanctions by the courts, and will ensure that the courts have a wide range of appropriate options for dealing with persons who have committed minor offences.
The legislation also takes account of the interests of victims of crime by making it a statutory requirement for the courts to have regard to the interests of victims when making decisions about community sanctions.
Justice Plan for 2022 commits that the policy review of the General Scheme of the Criminal Justice (Community Sanctions) Bill 2014 will be completed in the second quarter of this year.
Once this review is complete, it is envisaged that it will be published and a revised General Scheme agreed in the third quarter of this year with the aim of publishing the Bill in the final quarter of 2022.