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Sentencing Policy

Dáil Éireann Debate, Tuesday - 24 May 2022

Tuesday, 24 May 2022

Questions (31)

Neale Richmond


31. Deputy Neale Richmond asked the Minister for Justice if she will consider introducing mandatory minimum sentences for those persons who assault frontline workers; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [25984/22]

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Written answers (Question to Justice)

I am sure the Deputy will join me in condemning any assaults made on our frontline workers. I would encourage anyone with knowledge of such offences to report this information to their local/nearest Garda station. It is imperative that frontline workers are protected in carrying out their work and that the law reflects and responds to the situations in which they find themselves. 

There are a range of robust legislative provisions available to the Garda authorities for such offences. Any assault causing harm on any person is an offence under section 3 of the Non–Fatal Offences Against the Person Act 1997. A person convicted of such an offence would be liable on summary conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months, or to a maximum fine of €2,500, or to both, or, on conviction on indictment, to a fine or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 5 years or to both.

In addition, section 19 of the Criminal Justice (Public Order) Act 1994 provides for the offence of assault or threatening to assault certain categories of persons. Such persons include a person providing medical services in a hospital, or any person assisting such a person, a peace officer or any person assisting a peace officer, or any other person with intent to resist lawful apprehension or detention for an offence.  The term 'peace officer' includes members of An Garda Síochána, a prison officer, a member of the fire brigade, ambulance personnel or a member of the Defence Forces.

A person convicted of an offence under section 19 of the 1994 Act would be liable on summary conviction to a maximum fine of €5,000, or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months, or to both. A person convicted of such an offence on indictment would be liable to a fine or to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 7 years, or to both. The latter penalty was increased from a maximum term of 5 years in 2006. 

As the Deputy will appreciate, sentencing in individual cases is a matter solely within the discretion of the trial judge, having regard to the circumstances of the case and of the accused and subject to any limits as may be prescribed by law for a particular offence. The court is required to impose a sentence which is proportionate not only to the crime but also to the individual offender; in that process, identifying where on the sentencing range the particular case should lie, and then applying any mitigating factors. 

An important safeguard rests in the power of the Director of Public Prosecutions to apply to the Court of Appeal to review a sentence she regards as unduly lenient.

On mandatory sentences, I am mindful that there are differing views and I will continue to keep the law in this area under review.

In December 2021, my Department commenced a review of enactments providing for the imposition of minimum mandatory sentences in accordance with section 29 of the Judicial Council Act 2019. A report is to be provided to the Oireachtas on foot of this review by December of this year.

The Deputy may also be aware that mandatory minimum sentences for second or subsequent offences are unconstitutional post the 2019 Ellis judgment of the Supreme Court. On foot of this judgement, it was necessary to repeal all such offences in 2021 via the Criminal Justice (Amendment) Act 2021. These offences related primarily to certain firearms and misuse of drugs offences. 

Finally, the Judicial Council Act 2019 provides for a range of matters, including provisions relating to developing schemes for judicial education and training provisions and provisions on sentencing guidelines, which are intended to assist with more consistency in sentencing. The Judicial Council is currently putting in place a Sentencing Information Committee, a function of which will be to collate and disseminate information on sentencing in respect of criminal offences.