Fresh calls are being made for mandatory minimum sentencing for homicide offences after the Government took the surprise step of announcing such proposals for repeat sex offenders.
Advocates for the Victims of Homicide (AdVic) said that multiple calls it had made for such measures had been “knocked back” by the Government and asserted that mandatory minimum sentencing should be extended to homicide offences.
The Government’s announcement appears to mark a significant change in justice policy over successive administrations and is in stark contrast with department advice given only last month to Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan.
Senior legal sources questioned the sudden change in policy and noted the proposals came from a Government Independent Alliance TD and minister of state Kevin ‘Boxer’ Moran.
The Cabinet announced last Tuesday that Mr Flanagan had been given the green light to take proposals from a bill by Mr Moran and include them in a new government draft bill to be put before the Cabinet in the autumn.
In a Department of Justice statement, Mr Flanagan said: “The major provisions with regard to the establishment of minimum mandatory sentences for repeat sexual offenders are based on the work of Minister of State Moran.”
He said serious sex offences will be added to a schedule in existing legislation, the Criminal Justice Act 2007, allowing for such sentences.
Welcoming the Government’s proposals, AdVic requested the same be applied to homicide offences.
“If the Government can introduce minimum mandatory sentences for sexual offences then there is no reason why it cannot be done for homicide offences,” said spokeswoman Joan Deane.
She pointed out that prior efforts by the advocacy group to persuade the Government to make the change for homicide offences had never been taken on board.
“Any engagement we had with Government to date was knocked back with the excuse that anyone guilty of murder is subject to a life sentence,” she said.
She said the reality of a life sentence was anything but — and that it was, in effect, a minimum seven-year sentence, with offenders eligible to apply for parole after serving that length of time.
AdVic has campaigned for a “murder by degree” offence with a range of “starting tariffs” depending on the severity of the offence: 15 years, 25 years, 30 years, and a “whole life” order.
The Government’s announcement appears to stand in stark contrast with a briefing document to Mr Flanagan, published only last month.
In it, the department’s section of criminal law reform said: “The Law Reform Commission examined the issue of mandatory minimum sentences for second or subsequent offences in its report on June 2013 and found these sentencing regimes are inconsistent with the fundamental principles of justice and the principles of consistency and proportionality in sentencing and that they appear to create a risk of disproportionate sentencing in restricting the ability of the courts to take account of the individual circumstances of each offender.”
It said the commission recommended the repeal of mandatory minimum sentences and the use of them “should not be extended to other forms of repeat offending”. It further noted that the department’s own Review Group on Penal Policy made a similar recommendation in July 2014.
One senior legal source said: “After the reports of the Law Reform Commission and the Government Penal Policy Group, the argument against mandatory sentences seemed to have been accepted as government policy. While maybe there was no rush to get rid of the existing provisions they certainly seemed to accept the case of not introducing any more.”
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