Judge in NI police murder case urges sentencing system review

Fri, May 25, 2012, 01:00

ONE OF Northern Ireland’s top judges, Lord Justice Paul Girvan, has claimed judges’ hands are tied over the tariff they can impose on teenage killers and has called for an urgent review of the system.

Sir Paul’s comments come in the wake of the public outcry at the 14-year tariff he said he was forced to impose on a man convicted of involvement in the dissident Continuity IRA shooting of Constable Stephen Carroll, the first PSNI officer to be murdered.

Constable Carroll’s widow Kate described the sentence given on Monday to John Paul “Jamie” Wootton (21), who was 17 at the time of the 2009 shooting, “disgusting”.

In a carefully worded statement, Sir Paul said he personally would welcome a review of the sentencing system, claiming “judges are not free to act in accordance with their own unfettered viewpoint”, but within the law as it stood.

However, he added later that “insofar as it is open to a trial judge to express a view . . . I feel bound to express the view that the current guidelines and the case law based on them do require reconsideration”.

This review was needed, said the top law lord, “to take account of modern conditions and to properly take into account the argument that there is a heightened need for deterrence and retribution in the fixing of tariffs, at least in relation to certain categories of murder including, in particular, the terrorist murder of a police officer as occurred in the present case”.

Sir Paul said it was up to the Court of Appeal, by a reference from Barra McGrory, the Director of Public Prosecutions, to decide “whether the guidelines require modification or clarification”.

It was reported from the Judicial Communications Office that Sir Paul wanted to make his statement “to make clear some matters which may not have emerged clearly enough in his sentencing remarks”.