In its judgment, the court said the appeal against the sentence imposed on Anthony McMahon raised “an important and difficult issue in relation to the sentencing of mentally ill offenders who pose a serious risk of harming others”.
The court also said the question of sentencing courts being given powers to detain those deemed a threat to the public beyond any sentence for the crime committed should be addressed by detailed legislation from the Government, as well appropriate debate.
McMahon, of Raheen Square, Ballinacurra Weston, Limerick, pleaded guilty to assault causing serious harm to Dr Ananth Pullela and assault causing harm to Catherine Burns at St Anne’s Day Hospital on the January 17, 2008.
However, the DPP, who argued a life sentence should have been imposed, appealed against what it argued was the undue leniency of the sentence imposed on him by Judge Carol Moran at Limerick Circuit Criminal Court in 2009.
Yesterday the appeals court dismissed the DPP application.
The DPP claimed the sentence imposed was unduly lenient as he attacked the two healthcare workers shortly after he had completed a seven-year prison sentence for killing another man in 2001. The DPP claimed he represented a clear danger to others.
The DPP also argued that had McMahon pleaded not guilty by reason of insanity he would have been detained at the Central Mental Hospital until he was considered safe to be released. A similar result could and should be achieved by imposing a life sentence on McMahon, the DPP further submitted.
Lawyers for McMahon, who was not present in court yesterday, argued the sentence should not be altered. The Mental Health Act of 2001 provided the only mechanism for the detention of a person considered a danger to the public or themselves, they said.
Giving the appeal court’s judgment, Mr Justice O’Donnell said a sentencing judge can only sentence in respect of the offence. The court did not have the power to impose a sentence for a criminal offence which would allow for an “open ended detention” on the grounds of anticipated future risk of harm.