State responds to challenge over mandatory life sentences

THE state is entitled, both under the Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), to enact laws stipulating a mandatory life sentence for the crime of murder, the Supreme Court was told yesterday.

Brian Murray SC, for the state, began outlining its response on the second day of a challenge by two convicted murderers to the mandatory life term.

Peter Whelan and Paul Lynch contend Section 2 of the Criminal Justice Act 1990, which provides mandatory life sentences for murder or treason, breaches their rights, including their right to liberty, both under the Constitution and ECHR. They argue the mandatory term removes judicial discretion from sentencing and effectively gives the Minister for Justice a judicial power relating to sentencing.

Whelan pleaded guilty in 2002 to the murder of Nicola Sweeney, aged 20, a student, at her home in Underwood House, Rochestown, Cork, in April 2002. He was also jailed for 15 years for the attempted murder of her friend Sinead O’Leary on the same evening. He appealed to the Court of Criminal Appeal, which decided the 15 year sentence should run consecutively to the life term.

Lynch pleaded guilty in 1997 to murdering Donegal pensioner William Campbell, aged 77, at the victim’s home in September 1995.

A five-judge Supreme Court is hearing both men’s appeal against a High Court decision dismissing their challenge.

The hearing will resume on February 25 next.


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