Rape verdict - Sentencing sends wrong message

THE public can be forgiven for comparing judicial sentencing for rape in this country to a lottery.

Despite the heinous nature of this outrageous crime against women, the perceived leniency of sentences in certain cases invariably leaves the victims in shock, causes frustration among those at the coal-face of this crisis, and results in confusion and anger for the man and woman in the street.

In the latest controversy, the suspended three year sentence, meted out on Monday in the Central Criminal Court by Mr Justice Paul Carney to a man who had raped a mother of three in her home, has led to widespread public anger and confusion.

Aware of the far-reaching implications of her case, rape victim Mary Shannon felt she was left with no other option but to waive her right to anonymity.

In pursuit of justice, she is to be commended for having the courage to go public, calling openly on the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to appeal the sentence on grounds of undue leniency.

Regrettably, under Ireland’s adversarial legal system, an aggressive and articulate lawyer can turn the law inside out, depicting a rape victim as the criminal. There is something basically wrong with a system when the victims of crime end up feeling they are the criminals.

That was how Mary Shannon felt.

Not only did she flee from the court in a state of shock, she also had to endure the ordeal of travelling home to Clare on the same train as the perpetrator of the crime.

While the judge found Adam Keane guilty, he walked from court because Justice Carney indicated there was legal precedent in relation to an earlier decision of the Court of Criminal Appeal (CCA).

However, what incensed many people was the Judge’s observation that ” having regard to the approach taken by the CCA to this type of offence in this type of case, I have to ask myself whether I would be comfortable to imprison this young man who said it was out of character for him, but that if DNA said he had done it, then he wouldn’t shy away from his responsibility”.

In this context, the deeply disturbing allegation by Mary Shannon, that Keane flicked his cigarette butt at her when they got off the train, speaks volumes for her predicament.

In reaction, the Irish Countrywomen’s Association has come out strongly in support of her cause. Criticising the leniency of the sentence, the ICA’s unequivocal position is that the punishment did not fit the crime.

Adding to the public’s sense of confusion at the sentence handed down by Justice Carney, who is widely regarded as one of the most experienced members of the judiciary, earlier in the day the same judge sentenced a man to 15 years in jail for raping a 75-year-old woman, a verdict generally regarded as proportionate and fitting the crime.

The public has been profoundly moved by Mary Shannon’s plight. Members of the Oireachtas have added their voices to calls for the sentence to be repealed.

The separation of powers is sacrosanct and there can be no question of political interference with the judiciary. But while Taoiseach Bertie Ahern has refused to discuss the issue, he cannot ignore the growing demands for mandatory sentences in rape cases.

Alternatively, the Government should set sentencing guidelines for sexual offences. They would have the force of law and be applied across the legal system.

Erratic sentencing sends out the wrong message. Fearing they will be betrayed in the courts, victims are not reporting incidents of rape. When women do not trust the justice system, it is an appalling vista.

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