‘Shoot-to-kill’ remarks - Urgent need to retrain our judiciary

JUSTICE Minister Michael McDowell hardly had Judge Sean McBride in mind when he changed the rules this week on the force people can use to protect their life and property from intruders.

Setting an example that other home-owners would be ill-advised to follow, the judge declared at a sitting of Monaghan District Court that if he had a licensed shotgun he would blow the head off anyone who came into his house.

While many people up and down the country will undoubtedly empathise with these sentiments, the Irish Council for Civil Liberties was absolutely right to condemn such comments. Like it or not, Judge McBride was setting an appalling example for which he since apologised. Among other provisions, the new Criminal Law (Defence of Life and Property) Bill removes the requirement on occupiers to retreat in the face of a criminal trespasser before using force.

But the Tánaiste had earlier warned that when the laws were tightened, effectively giving householders more rights to defend their homes, no one would get a “007-style” licence to kill

His comments were made in the context of a report from the influential Law Reform Commission which recommended that householders defending their property should not be expected to retreat in the face of an attack. But if they used lethal force it must be justified by the threat to them and the proportionality of their actions.

Significantly, as part of its deliberations, the three-year study examined the controversy surrounding the case of Mayo farmer, Padraig Nally, who was jailed for manslaughter after shooting Traveller, John Ward, at Mr Nally’s isolated Co Mayo farm. He was subsequently acquitted at the Central Criminal Court of the manslaughter.

Mr McDowell pointed out that while “all of us have the right to use any reasonable force to protect our own lives, none of us are given some kind of 007 licence to kill by the law”.

Doubtless, Judge McBride was moved to anger when sentencing a 26-year-old man charged with robbing cash and a bank card from a 79-year-old pensioner’s home.

The accused man had accompanied his deceased aunt’s elderly friend to her home where he proceeded to rifle through her handbag.

Describing the robbery as mean and low, the judge observed that he had never heard anything so despicable in his life as somebody going into a house of an old lady and robbing her.

He then told the court that if he had a licensed shotgun he would “blow the head off anyone” who came into his house.

And he added: “People have no business going into private houses.”

Suggesting that his home county of Donegal had a particular problem in that regard, he emphasised that he was sending out a very tough message and sentenced the man to three months.

On the broader legal canvas, this incident represents a graphic illustration of the need for the speedy introduction of ongoing retraining courses for members of the judiciary.

As is clear from a litany of bizarre utterances from the bench, there is a compelling case for such re-fresher courses for judges throughout their careers.

The only conclusion to be drawn from Judge McBride’s intemperate remarks is that he was so incensed by the circumstances of the robbery that he lost the run of himself.

By no stretch of the imagination, can his shoot-to-kill remarks be excused.

For anyone to justify blowing somebody’s head off because they have entered a person’s home is outrageous and especially when such rash comments come from a judge.

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