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Deputy Joe Carey has backed reform of the legislation on serious offences and says the gap between conviction and sentencing must be closed.

Carey calls for closing of gap between conviction and sentencing

CLARE’S Fine Gael TD has insisted that more must be done to shorten the delay in sentencing people convicted of criminal offences. 

Deputy Joe Carey said the practice that has arisen in recent years can lead to the “distancing between the horrific nature of a violent crime and the sentence received”.

The Clarecastle-based TD made his comments during a second stage debate on Thursday last, on the Criminal Justice (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill.

The Bill proposes to change the current ten-year maximum sentence for the crime of conspiracy to murder, to a possible life sentence. It also makes provision for a doubling of the maximum sentence for serious assaults and the introduction of  new criminal offences of stalking and non-fatal strangulation.

On the practice of delaying the sentencing of convicted persons, Deputy Carey said he understood the argument “for the need for victim impact statements and assessment of the perpetrator’s past history”.

He added that the sentencing gap “allows for a distancing between the horrific nature of a violent crime and the sentence received”. “We need to find a way to link the sentence received to the crime committed to deter other people from entering the criminal world,” he said.

At the outset of the debate, Deputy Carey commended his party colleague, Justice Minister Helen McEntee for her efforts to “modernise this system, not only to reform the system but also to streamline the process and ensure that if you do the crime you do the time”.

He said it was particularly important to deter young people, from entering into criminal activity, especially those involving criminal gangs. Deputy Carey also asked that the minister might look next at the sentencing policy for criminal gang membership.

Referring to recent progress in the arrest and detention of senior Irish gangland figures, he complimented Gardaí for their ongoing efforts to track and prosecute these gang leaders.

“We must also thank the Garda for its intelligence work in preventing many serious gangland crimes, including murder, which often does not get any recognition,” he said.

“The measures in the Bill will strengthen the resolve of the Garda and our communities to tackle gangland crime. They will also possibly deter others, particularly the young, from becoming involved in criminal activities with gangs.”

Deputy Carey said the setting up the Criminal Assets Bureau (CAB) was one of the most successful pieces of legislation in addressing criminal gangs.

“It needs to be tightened up to bring about quicker results in confiscating assets,” he warned. “The initial legislation was carefully drafted to prevent court challenge. It has now been well tested in the courts and as a result of these rulings we may be able to introduce a stronger Bill to confiscate these ill-gotten assets in a more timely manner.”

Deputy Carey welcomed the section of the Bill that increases penalties for all those involved in any way in conspiracy to murder. On the issue of assault causing harm, he noted that the Bill will increase the maximum sentence from five to ten years.

“This is one of the most common charges. While a life sentence can be imposed for an assault causing serious harm it only covers a limited subset of the worst assaults,” he said. “Most assaults can only be prosecuted at the lower levels, especially where the victim has fully or mostly recovered.

“Even where a judge considers the offence as among the more serious, he or she is limited in sentencing to five years and may have to reduce this further to reflect mitigating factors such as a guilty plea.”

In relation to the offences of stalking and bullying online, Deputy Carey said that while they may be covered by other Acts, he believes that if a person is convicted of both, the sentencing should be cumulative. “The Bill reflects the public opinion that the seriousness of the crime must be reflected in the sentences that judges can impose,” he said.

Deputy Carey concluded by describing the Bill as further evidence of the government’s “commitment to zero tolerance and part of the Government’s national strategy on domestic, sexual and gender-based violence”. 

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