Tuesday, 24 November 1970
Dáil Eireann Debate
Mr. L'Estrange: asked the Minister for Justice if he is aware of the public dissatisfaction that sentences imposed on persons and gangs convicted of robbery, theft and using knives do not effectively discourage such crimes; and if he will introduce legislation to increase the maximum sentence which may be imposed in such cases and to provide for minimum sentences.
Minister for Justice (Mr. O'Malley): I am not aware of any general dissatisfaction at the penalties imposed for offences of the kind referred to. I should like to have it understood that the newspaper reports of court hearings may not convey the full picture of all the circumstances as they emerge at the hearing, simply because of the need to summarise by reason of the pressure on newspaper space and, on occasion, a very reasonable sentence in all the circumstances can appear unduly lenient if considered in the light of the newspaper reports alone.
The maximum sentences that may be imposed for the offences in question are severe by any standards. They range from five years penal servitude in the case of simple larceny to penal servitude for life in the case of such offences as armed robbery and assault with intent to cause serious bodily harm which succeeds in its intention. Of course, a large proportion of the less serious offences in these categories are, with the consent of the accused person, tried in the district court, which cannot impose a penalty greater than 12 months imprisonment. But before it can assume jurisdiction the district court must be of opinion that the facts proved or alleged constitute a minor offence fit to be tried summarily.
It would, in my opinion, be futile to seek to impose a minimum sentence for these offences. Any such penalty would have to be very low to allow for the great variety of circumstances that can attend the offences and the courts would naturally tend to find it difficult to convict at all in cases where they were satisfied that the minimum penalty was on the high side in relation to the facts of the case before them.
Mr. L'Estrange: Is the Minister not aware that there is grave dissatisfaction about this especially in the city of Dublin? Is he aware that a man stole a car from Dublin, drove 100 miles, shot a man, robbed him, came back and threw the gun into a river on the way back, stole another car and got a two years suspensory sentence and the man is out scot-free? Is he not further aware that last year a man knifed a policeman and got away scot-free?
Mr. O'Malley: In my reply I commented in general on the matters raised by the Deputy. It can be very misleading at times to conclude from a newspaper report which, as I say, must necessarily be condensed and which may not get the point of the case at all, that the penalties in any particular case are inadequate. I am not saying that in every case the penalties are adequate. From time to time I receive complaints in relation to particular cases but the Deputy and the House will appreciate that it is not my function to take up the question with individual judges or justices of the adequacy or otherwise of the penalties imposed by them. To do so would be very unwise of me. The independence of the justices is very valuable—so valuable that every effort should be made to maintain it.
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