Adjournment Debate 29 January 2014 – Seanad Éireann
The need for the Minister for Justice and Equality to change the law so that people found guilty of serious offences such as domestic violence, assault and sexual offences cannot pay financial compensation in lieu of a custodial sentence
– Senator Averil Power
Response by Minister of State Dinny McGinley on behalf of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence, Alan Shatter TD
I wish to thank the Senator for raising this matter on the adjournment today. I am speaking on behalf of the Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence who regrets that he is unable to be present due to other business.
As the Senator will appreciate, the courts are independent in the matter of sentencing, as in other matters concerning the exercise of their judicial functions, subject only to the Constitution and the law.
In accordance with this principle, the role of the Oireachtas has been to specify in law a maximum penalty for an offence. A court, having considered all of the circumstances of a case, may impose an appropriate penalty up to that maximum. It is the responsibility of the court to determine the sentence to be imposed in a particular case, having heard all the evidence presented, and taking case-law into account. The court is required to impose a sentence which is proportionate not only to the crime but also to the individual offender, in that process identifying where in the sentencing range the particular case should lie and then applying any mitigating factor which may be present.
From time to time, issues arise with consistency in sentencing and the sentences imposed in high-profile or particularly sensitive cases. The Senator will appreciate that it would be inappropriate for a member of the Executive to make any comment on individual cases. However, I draw attention to an important safeguard, which is the power of the Director of Public Prosecutions to apply to the Court of Criminal Appeal to review a sentence imposed by the Circuit, Central Criminal or Special Criminal Court that she regards as unduly lenient.
Section 6 of the Criminal Justice Act 1993 provides for the making of a compensation order (on application or otherwise) against a convicted person by the court instead of or in addition to dealing with the person in any other way, unless it sees reason to the contrary.
The Minister intends to seek Government approval very soon for the General Scheme of a Bill to replace the Probation of Offenders Act 1907 with modern provisions dealing with community sanctions and the role of the Probation Service in the criminal justice system.
In the context of that legislation, consideration will be given to the question of whether the Criminal Justice Act 1993 should be amended to ensure that there is to be no link between the payment of compensation by an offender and the sentencing of the offender.
The replacement of the Court Poor Box with a transparent statutory Reparation Fund, which has been recommended by the Law Reform Commission, will also be considered in the new legislation. The details of the proposed Bill will be announced in due course following Government approval.
In September 2012, the Minister for Justice, Equality and Defence announced a strategic review of penal policy. A working group is carrying out this review which is examining all aspects of penal policy, including sentencing. The group is expected to report in the coming months. In its deliberations, the group will take account of the recommendations of the Law Reform Commission’s recent report on mandatory sentencing and both reports will be considered by the Minister in due course.
The issue of domestic and sexual violence is one that this Government takes very seriously. Cosc, the National Office for the Prevention of Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence, is continuing to co-ordinate the implementation of the National Strategy on Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence 2010-2014.
Since coming into office, the Minister has brought forward important amendments to the Domestic Violence Acts 1996 and 2002 through the Civil Law (Miscellaneous Provisions) Act 2011. The net effect of these changes has been to extend the protections of this legislation to a wider number of people and circumstances.
It is the Minister’s intention to bring forward a package of workable and effective proposals for the consolidation and reform of domestic violence legislation as soon as possible, having regard to other legislative priorities.
To advance this work, officials in Cosc, the National Office for the Prevention of Domestic, Sexual and Gender-based Violence have met with representatives of a number of groups to discuss their proposals for legislative change. Careful consideration will also be given to the recommendations from the examination of domestic and sexual violence by the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality when it reports.