Judge rejects charge that rape sentences ‘not transparent’

Mr Justice Tony Hunt says sentencing based firmly on Court of Appeal decisions

Mr Justice Tony Hunt. File photograph: Collins Courts.

Mr Justice Tony Hunt. File photograph: Collins Courts.

 

A High Court judge has criticised media commentary which he said described sentencing in rape cases as “opaque and not transparent”.

Mr Justice Tony Hunt made his remarks during the sentencing of a man who sexually molested his 13-year-old cousin when he was aged 15.

He jailed the now 30-year-old for 14 months after citing a Court of Appeal decision which reduced the headline sentence for rape from four years to 2½ years on the basis of that man’s immature age at the time of the attack.

He said that media commentary that suggested sentencing was “opaque and not transparent” was incorrect and that sentencing was based firmly on Court of Appeal decisions.

He referred to the case DPP v J. H., which involved a 23-year-old accused who was 15 when he orally raped an 11-year-old girl. Last July, the Court of Appeal reduced the sentence imposed by Mr Justice Hunt to 18 months with six suspended.

In its ruling the court stated that “what is relevant in the context of sentencing is the fact that the appellant, although now an adult, committed the crimes in question when he was fifteen years old.

‘Level of maturity’

“A sentencing court is required to access the offender’s level of maturity at the time of the commission of the offence and to accordingly access his culpability as of that time.”

The court continued that while it was impossible to know how a court would have dealt with the offender had he been prosecuted as a 15-year-old boy, there is a “likelihood...that any period of detention imposed would have been in the region of 12 months, followed by a period of supervision, such as is provided for in...the Children Act 2001.”

In this week’s case a father of two had pleaded not guilty to five charges of sexual assault and one charge of attempted rape at a house in Dublin on a date in June or July of 2003. After a trial at the Central Criminal Court a jury convicted him of two charges of sexual assault.

Mr Justice Hunt imposed concurrent sentences of 14 months and seven months for both offences. As well as his age at the time, the judge also noted the man’s history of employment, his education achievements and the fact that he has young children.

Colman Cody SC, defending, told the court that his client continues to claim that the sexual contact between the two had been consensual but pointed out that as the victim was a child at the time “the defence of consent is not available to my client”.

Mr Justice Hunt said there was an absence of genuine remorse shown for his offending or for claims made to gardaí­ that “impugned” the complainant.