Judge endorses call to repeal mandatory sentences

Lawyers had ‘grave doubts’ about mandatory regimes

 Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy: “The fundamental problem with mandatory sentencing is its failure to fulfil the basic requirements of a sentencing policy.”

Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy: “The fundamental problem with mandatory sentencing is its failure to fulfil the basic requirements of a sentencing policy.”

 

Mandatory sentences do not help achieve the key goals of deterrence or rehabilitation and should be revisited, a High Court judge has said.

Endorsing the recommendations of the Law Reform Commission’s report on mandatory sentences yesterday, Mr Justice Patrick McCarthy said most lawyers had always had “grave doubts” about such sentences.

“The fundamental problem with mandatory sentencing is its failure to fulfil the basic requirements of a sentencing policy,” he said. While the goal of punishment was “to some degree” achieved, this was not true of deterrence or rehabilitation.

Mr Justice McCarthy said mandatory sentences diluted the capacity of a court to tailor a sentence to “a person who is vulnerable, someone who deserves an appropriate measure of leniency because, for example, he or she might ultimately become a valuable member of society”.

In its report, the commission said current laws on “presumptive” minimum sentences for certain drugs and firearms offences were not working and should be repealed.

These regimes require that a court must ordinarily impose a specific minimum term except in exceptional circumstances.

The report endorsed retaining the mandatory life sentence in murder cases.