Unusual to suspend the bulk of such a sentence

Tue, Jul 31, 2012, 01:00

ANALYSIS:A SIX-YEAR sentence for sexual assault, where the victim was unknown to her attacker and there was no question of possible consent, is at the high end of the scale for such an offence. However, the suspension of the bulk of that sentence, while not unknown, is unusual.

There has been much discussion in the courts here and elsewhere about the appropriate sentence for sexual offences. Five years ago Mr Justice Peter Charleton conducted a survey of sentences for rape in Ireland and Britain to draw together some general principles. These have usually been followed since.

His review outlined four levels of severity, starting with cases where the victims urged leniency or where they had initially consented to sex and later changed their minds. This should warrant a custodial sentence, but in exceptional circumstances might not, he said.

At the next level were cases of a rape committed on an adult where the sentences generally started at five years, rising to eight where two or more men acted together, where there was a break-in or an abduction, or where it was committed by a person in a position of responsibility towards the victim.

Perpetrators who had previous convictions, or where there was unusual violence or humiliation, could expect sentences of between nine and 15 years; where gang rapes or multiple victims were involved the sentence could amount to life imprisonment.

The law outlines various sexual offences and the range of penalties for each. These are sexual assault, aggravated sexual assault, where serious violence or the threat of serious violence is used, “section four” sexual assault, which is sexual assault with an object and rape. Such offences are, of course, even more serious where children are involved.

Anthony Lyons was charged with the least serious sexual offence, that of sexual assault. This is described as an “indecent assault” on a male or a female, for which the maximum sentence is 10 years in jail, or 14 years if the victim is aged under 17.

Lyons was not charged with aggravated sexual assault, although Judge Desmond Hogan said he had no doubt that this was a serious offence which had involved “violence of a seriously frightening nature”.

He did not plead guilty, which would have mitigated his sentence, although he did not contest the facts of the case. He was also ordered to pay €75,000 in compensation, which Judge Hogan took into account when suspending most of the sentence.

It is open to the DPP to appeal against leniency of sentence if she considered it appropriate, but she must demonstrate a departure from sentencing principles.

The Dublin Rape Crisis Centre said the sentence indicated the seriousness of the offence. Its chief executive, Ellen O’Malley-Dunlop, said: “We hope the victim was made aware of the unusual step that Justice Hogan took in suspending 5½ years of this sentence and directing the perpetrator to pay the victim compensation of €75,000 instead of serving the full custodial sentence handed down to him.”

However, she expressed concern that someone with money could be seen to avoid a custodial sentence by providing large sums of money, thus “bringing into question the fairness of the criminal justice system as such an option is not available to a person with no money”.