Judicial discretion in sentencing is essential


Sir, – I write to support your editorial (“Irish Times view on mandatory minimum sentences: Still a bad idea”, February 17th) on mandatory minimum sentencing and to express my extreme disappointment at the reductive and simplistic rhetoric on crime espoused during the recent Dáil election campaign, including proposals made for new mandatory sentences for certain offences.

The Law Reform Commission, the Irish Penal Reform Trust and the Department of Justice’s own Strategic Review of Penal Policy have all made calls in recent years for a moratorium on the introduction of new minimum sentences.

Setting down in law a mandatory minimum amount of time someone must spend in prison removes judicial discretion in the courtroom, is proven to be ineffective as a deterrent to crime, and can unnecessarily burden an already overcrowded and under-resourced prison system. They are at odds with international best practice and should be rejected.

Furthermore, it should be noted that, in June of last year, I secured the introduction of a new section 29 in the Judicial Council Act 2019, which will shortly instigate a major shift in our national sentencing policies. The new section requires the Minister for Justice to review all mandatory minimum sentencing provisions on the Irish statute books within three years. In each case, the Minister will then decide whether the continued imposition of a mandatory sentence is appropriate for the respective offence. I would remind all those involved in government formation of this upcoming review and urge them to align themselves with the best empirical evidence and reject mandatory minimum sentencing, particularly for minor drug offences.

Focus and resources should instead turn to rehabilitation, reintegration and reducing our prison population. In this regard, I have a number of ideas. – Yours, etc,


Leinster House,

Kildare Street,

Dublin 2.