Currently there are plans to introduce Sentencing Guidelines as part of the proposed Judicial Council. Under our Constitution, it is a matter for the Oireachtas to determine the limits of sentences. It, in turn, then falls to our judiciary to interpret and determine the scope of those limits, a process which can be fraught with difficulties.
Whilst mandatory sentences are in place for certain offences, such as Murder; more often than not, Judges find themselves deciding on an appropriate sentence within the particular parameters of each case. Judges must weigh both the mitigating and aggravating factors of the case and sentence accordingly. They can, for instance, consider whether the accused person entered a timely guilty plea, if they were co-operative with Gardai or if they had previously been of good character. The impact of the offence and the rights of the victim must also now be considered under the recent European Directive 2012/29/EU.
Of course, a Judge may also choose to suspend all or part of any sentence imposed depending upon the facts of each case. It is of particular note that the Law Reform Commission is currently undertaking a review of the operation of suspended sentences in Ireland.
There have been various calls down through the years to introduce sentencing guidelines on a formal basis in Ireland. It will be of interest to see if the incoming Judicial Council can introduce a cohesive structure to allow for increased consistency across the sentencing regime.
Solicitor, Michael J. Staines & Company
28th May 2018