Dangerous driving: Ross rules out changing maximum jail term

Department of Transport spokesman says the legislation is however kept under review

Last year the Irish Court of Appeal said it would consider setting sentencing guidelines in cases of dangerous driving causing death

Last year the Irish Court of Appeal said it would consider setting sentencing guidelines in cases of dangerous driving causing death

 

Minister for Transport Shane Ross has no plans to reconsider the maximum penalties for dangerous driving causing death.

The issue of consistency of sentencing in such cases arose during an appeal by Finbarr O’Rourke (41), of Laurel Drive, Portlaoise, Co Laois, over his jail term for dangerous driving causing the death of Ciarán Treacy (4) in 2014.

Last month, O’Rourke had 18 months cut from his 7½-year jail term by the Court of Appeal.

The maximum sentence for the offence is 10 years.

Mr Justice Alan Mahon remarked during his verdict that the maximum sentence for dangerous driving causing death was increased in the United Kingdom from 10 years to 14 years and said it was desirable and appropriate that there be a degree of consistency in sentencing for particular offences.

In the UK, where there is a higher maximum penalty for this offence, the British ministry of justice said it is planning a consultation on driving offences and penalties by the end of this year.

Public disquiet

In part, this is due to public disquiet over the perceived leniency of sentences in cases of dangerous driving causing death.

“This government is determined to make sure sentencing fits the crime for those who kill or cause serious injury on our roads,” a spokeswoman for the ministry of justice said in response to queries.

Asked after the O’Rourke ruling, if there were any plans to reconsider the penalties for dangerous driving in the Republic, a Department of Transport spokesman replied there were not, but that the legislation was kept under review.

“The current penalty for dangerous driving causing death is a fine of up to €20,000 and/or up 10 years in prison. There is also a consequential disqualification from driving.

“As is the norm with consequential disqualifications, the law provides for a minimum period, with judicial discretion as to how long the period should be depending on the circumstances of the case,” the spokesman said.

Last year, the Irish Court of Appeal said it would consider setting sentencing guidelines in cases of dangerous driving causing death.

Reckless behaviour

At the time, the court was considering an appeal made by Seán Casey, (27), of Cooragannive, Skibbereen, Co Cork, who was jailed for seven years for dangerous driving causing the death of a 22-year-old woman and the paralysis of her friend.

Casey was four times over the legal limit when he drove at 80km/h into a roundabout.

His seven-year sentence was reduced to four years on appeal, in part due to the average lower sentences imposed in similar cases referred to by the judges for guidance in this case.

There is a view among legal experts that trials involving dangerous driving causing death are among the more difficult cases to balance in terms of sentencing, as the death is often the result of reckless behaviour.

The Court of Criminal Appeal has set guidelines in cases involving assault causing serious harm, commonly referred to by practitioners as the “Fitzgibbon” guidelines, and in cases involving possession of a firearm known as “Ryan” guidelines – both of which had been frequently relied upon by all sides in criminal courts since.