Tom Humphries case: Members of judiciary “extremely unhappy” at criticism of judge

Members of bar and judiciary view 2½-year sentence as generally correct in legal terms

Judge Karen O’Connor: “The suggestion that she wasn’t sympathetic to the victim in the case is plainly wrong,” said senior counsel Seán Gillane

Judge Karen O’Connor: “The suggestion that she wasn’t sympathetic to the victim in the case is plainly wrong,” said senior counsel Seán Gillane

 

Members of the judiciary and bar are “extremely unhappy” with public criticism of the judge who sentenced former Irish Times sports journalist Tom Humphries for child sex offences.

Humphries (54) was jailed for 2½ years last week by Judge Karen O’Connor for engaging in sexual acts with a teenage girl and grooming her over a three-year period.

Groups working with victims of rape and sexual abuse criticised the sentence for being too lenient and argued that sentencing guidelines must be introduced for judges.

In the Dáil, Sinn Féin TD Mary Lou McDonald said the sentencing “has brought the judiciary into disrepute” and “the public doesn’t trust the judicial system to deliver punishments” in sexual abuse cases.

A Circuit Criminal Court judge said on Monday that this was “a disgraceful slur on the judiciary but more particularly on Judge O’Connor, who is extremely highly regarded in terms of victim empathy. It has left many here extremely disappointed and unhappy, I have to say.”

The judge said any criticism should be directed at members of the Oireachtas, as “they are the ones who set the tariffs”.

He also criticised press coverage of the case, including coverage in this newspaper, which he said placed too much focus on the judge’s “sympathy” for Humphries and not enough on her condemnation of his crimes.

“The bit about her having sympathy for him was a single line in what I understand to be lengthy sentencing remarks. It was taken out of context. It was made her look like she viewed him as the victim, which was plainly not true.”

Senior counsel Anne Marie Lawlor said she was annoyed with suggestions that Judge O’Connor had an uncaring attitude towards the victim, given the judge’s lengthy experience as a prosecutor of sexual offenders.

“Judge O’Connor is particularly well known for being extremely strong on the role of victims in the process. And that is a well-deserved reputation and that is evidenced every single day in that court,” she said.

Sympathetic to victim

Senior counsel Seán Gillane agreed that she was “a judge with almost unrivalled experience as a practitioner in terms of prosecuting cases like this. So the suggestion that she wasn’t sympathetic to the victim in the case is plainly wrong.”

Ms Lawlor and Mr Gillane said they and their colleagues viewed the 2½-year sentence as generally correct in legal terms.

“In respect of the final custodial sentence, most practitioners would be of the view that it was an appropriate sentence in light of the penalties available to the court and the manner in which the court was obliged to have regard to the mitigating and aggravating factors,” Ms Lawlor said.

The maximum sentence for the defilement charges was five years, while the grooming charges carried a life term, although to date judges have never imposed more than five years for the offence.

Mr Gillane said an exceptionally tough sentence would undoubtedly be successfully appealed by Humphries.

“You just can’t ignore the fact that someone has no previous convictions,” Mr Gillane said. “You can’t ignore the fact that he’s had a psychiatric breakdown. All of these things have to be factored in.”

Judge O’Connor will be in the public eye again next year, as she is due to preside over the trial of former Anglo Irish Bank chief executive David Drumm.