Rape sentences become more severe as bankruptcy and asylum cases fall

Over 60% of rapists receive over 10 years, according to Courts Service 2019 report

Chief Justice Frank Clarke said last year ‘seems like a different time’ and will serve as a benchmark for how the courts operated before the coronavirus pandemic. File photograph: Matt Kavanagh

Chief Justice Frank Clarke said last year ‘seems like a different time’ and will serve as a benchmark for how the courts operated before the coronavirus pandemic. File photograph: Matt Kavanagh

 

There was a large increase in the severity of rape sentences handed down last year, with 63 per cent of convicted rapists receiving a sentence of more than 10 years.

The figures, from the Courts Service’s 2019 annual report, are a continuation ofa long-term trend of increasingly tough sentences for rape.

The average sentence for rape has been gradually increasing since 2005, and most offenders can now expect to receive a term of at least a decade on conviction.

The criminal courts sentenced 154 rapists last year of which 63 per cent received more than 10 years, up from 43 per cent in 2018.

Thirty-six per cent received between five and 10 years compared to 52 per cent in 2018, and just 1 per cent received a term of between two and five years, down from 4 per cent. There were no sentences less than two years handed down in either year.

Dramatic drop

The figures do not include the portions of the sentences that were suspended by judges. Most rape sentences incorporate a suspended element, meaning the rapist usually serves significantly less than the headline sentence.

Elsewhere, the annual report details a dramatic drop in civil cases relating to economic distress. There was a 40 per cent drop in new bankruptcy cases, a 28 per cent drop in new possession cases and a 37 per cent drop in possession order.

These numbers “tell a story of a recovering economy, of less personal debt, and a greater engagement over years with personal insolvency mechanisms”, the Courts Service said.

New asylum cases fell from 530 to 368, a drop of 30 per cent. There were also signs of an increasingly efficient system for processing asylum claims. The High Court increased the number of asylum cases it resolved by 94 per cent and eliminated the backlog.

There was a slight decrease in the number of new personal injury claims lodged but a 75 per cent increase in the value of medical negligence awards.

The Courts Service said this “almost certainly reflects the number of major catastrophic injury cases being dealt with in the year – where provision is made for a lifetime of needed care results in large awards, and where lower returns on investment require greater sums to provide that”.

Barring orders

Domestic violence matters also saw an increase. There was a 10 per cent increase in domestic violence applications, a figure driven by a 30 per cent increase in the granting of temporary barring orders. This followed significant increases in 2018.

Unveiling the report on Wednesday, Chief Justice Frank Clarke said 2019 “seems like a different time” and will serve as a benchmark for how the courts operated before the coronavirus pandemic.

He said the Courts Service has undergone five years of development within the past five months as it sought to respond to the pandemic.

The Chief Justice also welcomed measures brought to Cabinet by Minister for Justice Helen McEntee this week to expand the use of video-link technology and allow for electronic filing of legal documents.

He also welcomed the commitment in the programme for government to examine the need for in more judges and to fund the building of a dedicated family law complex beside the Four Courts.