FF says guidelines on sentencing should be issued to judges


THE Fianna Fail spokesman on law reform, Mr Willie O'Dea, has strongly criticised the "lack of coherence" in sentencing policy. He called for the introduction of statutory guidelines for judges.

"In the last few days a person was sentenced to five years for stealing £31 while on the same day a person convicted of importing £80,000 worth of heroin was sentenced to four years", he said in a statement yesterday. "People who have committed equally if not more serious offences have been sentenced to less. A man who pleaded guilty to leaving the scene of an accident where an 11 year old boy was killed walked free from court when the charge was struck out.

"This lack of coherence in sentencing policy should come as no surprise in view of the vast discretion Irish judges enjoy when deciding a sentence in any case he went on.

Mr O'Dea proposed four reforms to ensure a more consistent sentencing policy:

. There should be clear legislative guidelines to measure the severity of crimes. These would compel a judge to take into account whether the crime was premeditated, the motive, whether violence was used and whether the offender exploited a position of trust

. A national bureau should be established to compile and distribute information to judges about sentencing decisions

. Prosecuting counsel should be allowed to make submissions to court at the sentencing stage. Judges should be obliged to give reasons for their sentences

. Training seminars on sentencing should be held for judges.