Less than 15% of child porn convictions in District Court led to a jail sentence

Two offenders avoided punishment by making payments to the court poor box

More than one-quarter of child pornography cases in the District Court were struck out, often because of deficiencies or delays in the prosecution case. Photograph: Getty Images

More than one-quarter of child pornography cases in the District Court were struck out, often because of deficiencies or delays in the prosecution case. Photograph: Getty Images

 

Less than 15 per cent of people convicted before the District Court on charges of possessing child pornography received a prison sentence.

The District Court, where the maximum jail sentence is one year, typically deals with what are deemed to be the least serious child pornography cases. More serious cases, usually involving hundreds or thousands of images or particularly extreme material, are sent forward to the Circuit Court where the maximum term is five years.

More than one-quarter of child pornography cases in the District Court were struck out by judges, often because of deficiencies or delays in the prosecution case.

Some cases have been delayed up to six years due to a backlog in the Garda computer crime investigation unit. The data was released to The Irish Times following a Freedom of Information request.

Just five people were acquitted of the offence on the facts of the case during the 15 year period.

Twenty-six people received a fine for possessing the material while 24 were given the Probation Act, meaning they avoided a criminal record. Twenty-one were given jail sentences which were fully suspended.

Avoided punishment

A further 26 were ordered to enter a peace bond, meaning they avoided punishment if they undertook to not reoffend within a certain period. Two offenders avoided punishment by making payments to the court poor box.

The decision to keep a case in the District Court can often appear arbitrary and depends on the views of individual judges or prosecutors. For example, in 2013 a garda accused of having 650 videos of images of child abuse was allowed remain in the District Court if he pleaded guilty (he refused and was sent forward to the Circuit Court for trial).

According to the data released, the majority – 73 per cent – of child pornography possession cases are sent forward to the Circuit Court.

Child pornography possession is one of the few offences with an almost 100 per cent conviction rate once a case gets to verdict stage. There has not been an acquittal in the Circuit Court since 2013.

The conviction rate is high as the evidence in such cases is usually extremely strong, typically comprising digital files found on the defendant’s home computer.

New cases

The data also shows a 400 per cent increase in new cases since 2015. This year 119 child pornography cases were processed through the courts compared to 66 in 2016 and just 22 in 2015.

Legal observers say the increase in cases before the courts is because gardaí have managed to clear a backlog within the computer crimes unit.

Two years ago, then minister for justice Frances Fitzgerald promised to put in place measures to deal with the delays in examining computers for child abuse material. A review of the Garda operation was ordered and new guidelines for processing evidence were introduced.