Judges send too many people to jail, says Shatter

Justice Minister Alan Shatter has clashed with judges again after criticising them for sending too many offenders to jail on short sentences.

Mr Shatter said he was “disappointed” judges were not using legislation he enacted in 2011 obliging them to consider imposing community sentences instead of prison terms in cases attracting a sentence of one year or less.

He said official figures showed that almost 90% of people sentenced to prison in 2012 were serving sentences of fewer than 12 months.

Speaking at the annual conference of the Prison Officers’ Association in Athlone, Mr Shatter said 88% of the 13,526 people sentenced to prison in 2012 (numbering 11,844 people) were given sentences of 12 months or fewer.

He told delegates that “too many people” were being committed to short sentences and that many of those would be “better dealt with” through the community order system.

“It is desirable in the public interest that the community service legislation that was enacted in 2011 is utilised.

“There is an obligation on the court when considering short sentences to consider whether it is more appropriate they be dealt with under the community order scheme and it is disappointing it is not being greater utilised. I hope it will be greater utilised in the future.”

He said it was of “crucial importance that the leg-islation is fully and appropriately applied” but insisted he was not interfering with the constitutional independence of the judiciary.

He said community service was a “win-win” for communities — by having offenders pay back local areas through good work — and the State — in saving it money by having fewerinmates. He said it was also of benefit for offenders and helped reduce reoffending.

The minister said that if the legislation was not working, he would consider amending it.

Mr Shatter later denied he had rebuked the judiciary and said he was merely commenting on the matter.

His latest salvo follows last month’s high-profile row between the judiciary and Mr Shatter over cuts to their salaries and allegations from judges of interference with their independence.

Separately, the minister announced that a referendum would be held in September to establish a formal Court of Criminal Appeal, which, he said, would help address backlogs for criminal and civil appeals.

The minister said yesterday that lengthy delays in appeal cases were not fair for families or those appealing their cases.

He said the Cabinet agreed on Tuesday to hold a constitutional referendum in September to establish a formal Court of Criminal Appeal, with its own dedicated judges.

This, he said, would speed up appeals and take pressure off the Supreme Court.


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