Further information on the conference, and registration details, can be found here.
The High Court has today rejected a challenge to the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act, 2006 which was based on a claim of gender discrimination. The case involved a young man, now aged 18, who had sexual intercourse with a girl of 14 when he himself was 15.
The legislation in question provides for the offences of “defilement of a child under 15 years of age” (s. 2) and “defilement of a child under 17 years of age” (s. 3). Under both of these provisions it is an offence to engage in a sexual act with a child under the relevant age. However, s. 5 of the 2006 Act states that
A female child under the age of 17 years shall not be guilty of an offence under this Act by reason only of her engaging in an act of sexual intercourse.
The claim before the High Court was that the 2006 Act involved old-fashioned gender discrimination, which had no legitimate justification. Read more…
Established in 2009, the Network comprises of researchers, students, academics and practitioners with an interest in criminology and the Irish criminal justice system. Members are from a range of academic institutions and agencies north and south of Ireland.
Members of the Network research and write about crime, criminal justice and criminology in Ireland and further afield. The blog aims to discuss issues of critical concern.
For more details, please contact Nicola Carr at firstname.lastname@example.org
As this piece in the Irish Times argues, it is to be hoped that the judiciary implement the finalised Act in full. District Court sentencing is something about which we know rather little, but the proliferation of short sentence prisoners in Irish jails tends to suggest that minor offences do attract custodial sentences on a not-infrequent basis. Those interested in penal reform in Ireland will hope that this signal from the Oireachtas will lead to a reassessment amongst District Court judges of their sentencing practice and prompt further legislative activity to promote genuine alternatives to custody.
One entirely unnecessary stick to beat the prison system with is about to be removed. There remains more to be done. Ireland gives out some of the highest numbers of short sentences in Europe. Dealing with this category of prisoners within the community makes obvious financial and social sense. Ending imprisonment for fine default is a small step in the right direction.
In this first contribution to our St. Patrick’s Day blog event, the Human Rights Lexicon, Dr Liz Campbell–a regular contributor to HRinI–considers Human Rights in Criminal Justice
The prevailing attitude in the political sphere is that the influence of human rights in the Irish justice process is a negative one, resulting in a system which is focused unjustifiably on due process rights, and pays scant regard to the imperatives of crime control. The criminal process is seen as excessively concerned with the rights and liberties of the suspect or accused, while disregarding the harm caused to the community and the victim by criminal acts. This is believed to result in a justice system which is biased disproportionately towards the individual accused, and which stymies effective crime control, by circumscribing the powers of the State, and which denigrates the victim and wider society. Read more…
The Irish Council for Civil Liberties has now released the first of its Know Your Rights booklets. The Know Your Rights campaign is directed towards making people aware of their rights in different situations and communicating those rights in clear and accessible language. The first of these booklets relates to criminal justice and Garda powers and is available for download here and is both comprehensive and comprehensible–well worth downloading.
The Know Your Rights campaign is exactly the kind of thing that we need to be doing in Ireland by means of human rights education for the general populace and the ICCL are to be commended for their leadership on this matter.
The return of Jon Venables, one of the men (then boys) convicted of the murder of Jamie Bulger has sparked a fresh debate on how we respond to children who commit crimes and what we expect the criminal justice system to achieve in such cases.
Today the Ministry of Justice in the UK has announced that it has rejected calls to raise the age of criminal responsibility from ten to twelve. Scotland is in the process of amending its legislation to raise the age of responsibility from eight to twelve. Ireland made similar moves in 2001 under the Childrens Act, however in serious cases (murder, manslaughter, rape or aggravated assault) ten or eleven year olds can be prosecuted. Read more…
The Criminal Justice (Forensic Evidence and DNA Database System) Bill 2010 (as examined previously by Yvonne) was debated at second stage yesterday and referred to the Select Committee.
The Bill provides for the taking of various categories of samples, both for purposes of establishing or ruling out involvement in the commission of a specific offence, and for the creation of DNA profiles to be kept on the newly established statutory DNA database.
As regards taking DNA samples from arrestees, the Bill limits the range of relevant offences to serious crimes, such as firearms offences, and those which have a minimum punishment of five years. Thus, the proposed Irish approach to sampling in terms of its scope complies with and in fact surpasses the demands of the Grand Chamber in S. and Marper v UK which found the English scheme of blanket sampling and retention of DNA from arrestees for any recordable offence to be in breach of Article 8.
Moreover, the power under the Bill to take a sample from a detainee for the reference index of the Database does not apply to children below the age of 14, again indicating that the drafters are treading cautiously due to the statement in S. and Marper that that the retention of unconvicted persons’ data may be especially harmful in the case of minors “given their special situation and the importance of their development and integration in society”.
However, the procedures in Part 10 concerning the destruction of samples and profiles and the removal of profiles from the Database ought to be revised. The “default destruction period” for samples taken from detainees or offenders in the context of investigations is three years from the taking of the sample, and the same period applies to evidential samples when proceedings are not instituted, or after acquittal or discharge. However, these default destruction periods may be extended by the District Court. The equivalent Scottish law, as cited in S. and Marper, permits a similar extension by the Sheriff Court but for two years only (Criminal Procedure (Scotland) Act 1995, s. 18A), and a similar limiting qualification should be added to the Irish Bill.
The Prosecution of Offences Act 1974, which created the office of the DPP, was introduced in part to reduce the demands made on the office of the AG who was also legal advisor to government, a role that had become more demanding since Ireland joined the EEC in 1972, but also due to an increasing need for independence from government in the prosecution of offences. While the AG is a political appointee who falls with the government, the DPP is defined as a civil servant who is ‘independent in the performance of his functions.’ Neither the government nor the AG can question him on the exercise of his functions. The DPP has stated in his reports that this independence is essential to safeguard the citizen against arbitrary, unjust or improperly motivated prosecutions. Enhancing this independence, under s.6, communication with the AG, or his agent, the DPP or his agent or a member of an Garda Síochána or a solicitor acting on behalf of the AG or the DPP in an official capacity, in relation to decisions to prosecute, the withdrawal of initiated proceedings, decisions not to charge or to withdraw charges, is made unlawful by the legislation. Indeed, the section specifically instructs the prosecutor not ‘to entertain’ any such unlawful communication. Excluded from this are defendants, complaints, or communications from those acting as a medical or legal advisor, social worked or family member. But a politician cannot engage in any discussions with the DPP or any of the above named persons about the prosecution in a case which affects a constituent (either as defendant or victim). Read more…
Two men convicted of murder are challenging the mandatory life sentence prescribed for murder and treason in section 2 of the Criminal Justice Act 1990, on the grounds that it contravenes Bunreacht na hÉireann and the European Convention on Human Rights.
In essence, the men are alleging that mandatory sentencing scheme in Ireland breaches the separation of powers and the doctrine of proportionality. Few people imprisoned for life in Ireland are likely to serve this full sentence – so, the Minister for Justice, following a report from the Parole Board, will direct release.
Their arguments were advanced previously in the High Court in Whelan and Lynch v Minister for Justice, Equality and Law Reform  IEHC 374, where Irvine J rejected their challenge. There the plaintiffs argued that section 2 amounts to a sentencing exercise by the Oireachtas and thereby offends the doctrine of the separation of powers; that the absence of discretion of the trial judge offends the doctrine of proportionality; and that the direction by the Minister for Justice to release a prisoner serving a life sentence represents a judicial function, thus offending the separation of powers. Moreover, the men contended that they suffer inhuman and degrading treatment, contrary to Article 3 of the ECHR, due to the uncertainty of their imprisonment. They further alleged that Articles 5 and 6 are breached by the role of the Parole Board and the process whereby the Minister considers the continued detention, given that the former requires judicial determination of detention and review on a regular and frequent periodic basis and the latter protects a fair trial.
In rejecting all these contentions, the High Court relied on Deaton v. Attorney General  I.R. 170 and Osmanovic v. DPP  I.E.S.C. 50 to emphasise that mandatory sentences have never been viewed as unconstitutional. Indeed the High Court further stressed that judicial discretion in fact is impacted upon by laws which directs the court as to how certain evidence must be treated by at trial, and by requiring mandatory consequential orders to be imposed following upon conviction for road traffic offences, for example.
Regarding proportionality, the court differentiated the right to proportionality in sentencing (required where a trial judge is vested with a discretion as to the sentence that may be imposed) from the constitutional concept of proportionality which in this context is concerned with the public good to be achieved by the deprivation of liberty. The constitutional significance of the right to life, the harm wreaked by a killing on families (as protected by the Constitution) and the unique nature of the offence of murder were relied upon to conclude that s2 was not in breach of the doctrine of proportionality.
Furthermore, no breach of the separation of powers was found on the basis that the role of the court ceases once sentence has been passed and it is then up to the executive to carry out the sentence and, if appropriate, to exercise its rights of clemency. Indeed, in exercising his right to commute or remit punishment, the Minister was seen to be fulfilling the role afforded by Article 13.6 of the Constitution.
As regards the ECHR, the plaintiffs acknowledged that they are unlikely to serve out their life sentence and thus the High Court felt their sentences would not be such duration or unwarranted severity that would breach them within the scope of Art 3. Furthermore, the court did not see a distinction between the plaintiffs who could not anticipate their likely release date from other prisoners who are serving lengthy prison sentences. Moreover, the Court rejected arguments based on Articles 5 and 6 on the basis that the mandatory life sentence for murder is entirely punitive, and so their trial satisfied the requirements of Article 5(1) and they have no rights to a review by an independent body of their detention under Article 5(4) or Article 6(1). Similarly the intervention by the Parole Board and or the first named defendant in reviewing their continued detention was not viewed as a sentencing exercise.
Whether such a resounding rejection of their arguments is replicated in the Supreme Court remains to be seen.