Court sentences with in-built review dates under question

 

The practice of imposing sentences in criminal cases with an in-built review date may not be constitutional and should be reconsidered. The matter arose in a review by the Committee on Court Practice and Procedure of the early release of Mr Philip Sheedy.

His early release, following his conviction for drunk driving, resulting in the death of a Tallaght mother, produced a judicial scandal which led to the resignation of two judges, Supreme Court judge Mr Justice Hugh O'Flaherty and High Court judge Mr Justice Cyril Kelly.

The committee on court practice, made up of members of the judiciary, senior lawyers and politicians, is only able to make recommendations relating to the proper and efficient running of the courts, and could not make a recommendation on an issue like this, it said.

The report, published yesterday, examined whether the early release of Mr Sheedy raised issues of court practice and procedure that required change.

It concluded that this event did not raise any such issue. The problem lay in the fact that the proper procedures that already existed had not been followed by the judge in question, Mr Justice Cyril Kelly, it said. Therefore, there was no need to recommend any changes in procedures.

However, a reservation was made by two members of the committee, Mr Justice Peter Kelly and former Fianna Fáil TD Ms Marian McGennis. "Public disquiet has been caused, not by rules which need to be reviewed, but by procedures which do not exist," they said.

"Public concern centres on the fact that there was no system in place which could pick up the grave improprieties which occurred," they added. "Time-honoured court procedures, which were perfectly adequate as long as judges behaved properly, proved inadequate when a judge departed from established procedure.

"We cannot assume that such improprieties will never occur again, or indeed that they have not occurred before without being detected. . .A system is needed to ensure that the established court procedures are followed. No such system currently exists, and one should be designed and installed."

Mr Justice Kelly and Ms McGennis suggested that one such system could be ensuring that all decisions in the courts be registered, with positive evidence that all key procedures were followed.