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. The approach of the Oireachtas has generally been to specify in law a maximum penalty for an offence, so that a court, having considered all the circumstances of a case, may impose an appropriate penalty up to that maximum. The court is required to impose a sentence which is proportionate not only to the crime but to the individual offender, in that process identifying where on the sentencing range the particular case should lie and then applying any mitigating factors which may be present. An important safeguard rests in the power of the Director of Public Prosecutions to apply to the Court of Criminal Appeal to review a sentence she regards as unduly lenient.
The Superior Courts have developed a substantial body of case law setting out general principles of sentencing. Sentencing practice is also being developed by a steering committee of the judiciary which developed the Irish Sentencing Information System (ISIS) website, a pilot initiative designed to gather information about the range of sentences and other penalties that have been imposed for particular types of offences across court jurisdictions. ISIS is being developed as a valuable tool not only for members of the judiciary but also for lawyers, researchers and those concerned with the needs of victims and their families, and I very much welcomed the initiative led by the Judiciary through the Judicial Research Office in undertaking the detailed work of gathering and providing information via the website.
The Deputy may also be aware that I have established a Penal Policy Review Group to carry out a review incorporating an examination and analysis of all aspects of penal policy including sentencing policies. I expect the Group to report early in the new year and I intend to publish that report. It might be noted that a Sentencing Council was not advocated by the Law Reform Commission in its Report on Mandatory Sentencing which was published earlier this year. The report covers a number of complex issues and the recommendations contained in the report will be fully considered in my Department together with the report of the Penal Policy Review Group when it has been finalised.