Website on court sentencing launched

 

AN INSIGHT into how the courts deal with crime and sentencing will be available on a new Courts Service website which goes live today. Irishsentencing.ie contains much previously unpublished information on sentencing and draws together data from various court levels showing how different crimes are treated by the different courts.

The Irish Sentencing Information System is the product of a four-year pilot research programme conducted by a committee chaired by Mrs Justice Susan Denham.

It contains statistics on sentencing, on issues surrounding sentencing, synopses of the decisions of the superior courts on sentencing issues, links to full judgments and access to a database on actual sentences.

More than 1,000 records from the Circuit and District courts are examined to show details of the circumstances of the crime, those of the offenders, victim impacts and the sentences imposed.

Rulings of the various higher courts are summarised in relation to various categories, including drugs, dangerous driving, undue leniency, rape and sexual assault, with links to the full judgments.

The website also contains academic articles on the subject of sentencing by experts in the area, along with the statistics on the outcomes of cases in each court.

It shows that there were 5,160 prison offences imposed by the District Court in 2009 for road traffic offences, 6,039 for public order and assault, 7,194 for theft, 1,504 for less serious drug offences and 66 for sexual offences.

The Children’s Court imposed 608 sentences on 272 young people in 2009. In the Circuit Court, there were 51 sentences longer than 10 years, mainly for drug offences, along with 235 sentences of between five and 10 years, mainly for less serious drug offences.

In the Central Criminal Court, where people were convicted of murder or manslaughter, there were 19 life sentences, four of over 10 years, 11 between five and 10 and two between three and five years.

In the same court, where there were rape and sexual assault convictions, there were three life sentences, five over 12 years, 13 between five and 12 and eight sentences of under five years.

The website is free and it is intended that, as a pilot, it will receive feedback that will enable it to be further developed.

Chief Justice Mr Justice John Murray said: “The new pilot database, although not comprehensive at this stage, will nonetheless be a valuable resource from many different perspectives for members of the judiciary as well as for lawyers, researchers, criminologists, sociologists and those concerned with the needs of victims and their families.”

Minister for Justice Dermot Ahern said the website provided a snapshot of how the courts approached sentencing.

The Courts Service said the project would be assessed over the coming months. Its further development would have resource implications, however, and would be considered in the context of the current financial climate.

The steering committee was set up by the board of the Courts Service four years ago. Chaired by Mrs Justice Denham, its other members were Mr Justice Kevin O’Higgins (up to July 31st, 2008); Mr Justice Michael Peart; Mr Justice Esmond Smyth; Ms Justice Miriam Malone, president of the District Court, and Thomas O’Malley, faculty of law at NUI Galway. Its executive secretary was Miriam O’Flanagan of the Courts Service.