A man who was jailed for life for raping four of his daughters has argued on appeal that victim support should not become the “dynamic factor” in the imposition of life sentences.
Submissions were heard today in an appeal against sentence brought by the now 52-year-old man, who must wait until the New Year to find out if the appeal has been successful.
In December 2011 the man, who cannot be named in order to protect the identity of the victims, was jailed for life by Mr Justice Paul Carney at the Central Criminal Court sitting in Castlebar, Co Mayo.
He had pleaded guilty after arraignment to sample counts of rape and child cruelty against four of his daughters over an 18-year period from January 1991 to December 2009.
The man is appealing against his sentence on the rape counts only.
In handing down a life sentence, Mr Justice Paul Carney said he had taken in to consideration a threat made by the man to one of the victims, whereby he told her that no matter how long a sentence he got he would get out of prison, find her and kill her.
Counsel for the applicant, Mr Hugh Hartnett SC, told the court that in imposing sentence, Mr Justice Carney had remarked that a life sentence was not only warranted but was the only mechanism available to give the victims the support and reassurance they needed.
He submitted it was very clear that this was the driving force behind Mr Justice Carney’s decision to impose a life sentence.
Mr Hartnett told the court that the majority of the judgement was addressed to giving support to the victims, which is not a factor that can be taken in to consideration and should not become the “dynamic factor” in imposing the maximum penalty of life imprisonment.
He told the court that the man had pleaded guilty and such a plea, except in very exceptional circumstances, should be taken as a mitigating factor.
Mr Hartnett submitted there had been a very significant error in principle and the trial judge seemed to impose sentence on the basis that reassurance should be given to the victims.
Counsel for the State, Mr Paul Burns SC, said there was no error in principle, and the court should note it was agreed by both parties that the offending was at the top of the scale and it was “very hard” to envisage any sort of offending that could have been worse.
He said Mr Justice Carney did deal with the plea of guilty, which was entered late and was the only possible mitigating factor put forward in the case.
Mr Burns said the threat made by the man to kill the victim was credible and was an exceptional matter that the court was entitled to take in to account.
In reply, Mr Hartnett told the court that a plea of guilty in similar-type cases is of particular significance as it saves the victim from having to give evidence and refer to matters of “huge intimacy”.
Mr Justice Frank Clarke, presiding at the Court of Criminal Appeal, said that the court would reserve judgement but would deliver it on the first Wednesday of the next court term, which falls on January 15.