Judges want help with sexual violence and domestic abuse sentencing

Judges have indicated they could do with help in the sentencing of cases involving sexual violence, driving causing death and domestic abuse-type offences
Judges want help with sexual violence and domestic abuse sentencing

Feedback comes as a high-level judicial committee carries out the landmark development of sentencing guidelines, which, among other things, should 'promote consistency' in sentencing, take into account the 'impact' on victims and 'promote public confidence'. File picture

Judges have flagged they could do with help in the sentencing of cases involving sexual violence, driving causing death and domestic abuse-type offences.

The feedback comes as a high-level judicial committee carries out the landmark development of sentencing guidelines, which, among other things, should “promote consistency” in sentencing, take into account the “impact” on victims and “promote public confidence”.

The Judicial Council Act 2019 also tasks the Sentencing Guidelines and Information Committee to assess the “financial costs” involved in different types of sentences and their “relative effectiveness”.

Committee chair, Ms Justice Iseult O’Malley, told a seminar on Thursday that they carried out an “informal survey” of the judiciary earlier this year, in which judges were asked to identify what they saw as priority areas for the committee’s work.

“Certain themes came through quite strongly, including sexual offences, driving offences that cause fatalities and recurring issues in cases concerning offences committed in the context of a past or ongoing relationship between victim and offender,” the Supreme Court judge said.

District court

She said the last category was of “particular concern” to the district court, since many of the relevant offences are prosecuted on a summary basis there.

She said the committee planned to engage a researcher in the coming months to carry out a project with those judges.

Ms Justice O’Malley told the seminar, organised by the Irish Penal Reform Trust and the Irish Criminal Bar Association, that a “great deal of work” needs to be done to gather and analyse sentencing data – and that an international team has been engaged.

Commenting on the "financial cost" matter, she said this might lead the committee into a “new area”, as it involved consideration of factors that “would not up to now” have been considered by a sentencing judge.

“These have traditionally been seen as matters for the executive, and not part of the administration of justice,” she said. 

She said this matter would "have to be considered carefully and perhaps revised in the light of experience".

She said she did not think judges in individual cases would end up having to "calculate the cost" of sentences.

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