Sentencing 'a matter for judiciary'
Published 29/11/2011 | 18:02
Assembly members debating the introduction of mandatory minimum sentencing for attacks on the elderly have been warned against interfering with the independence of the judiciary.
Democratic Unionist Assembly members tabled a motion demanding minimum jail terms for anyone found guilty of violent crimes against older or vulnerable people, which was narrowly passed at Stormont.
All members condemned such attacks, but representatives of the Alliance party, Sinn Fein and the SDLP said research suggested mandatory sentencing did not deter crime and they warned against causing undue concern to older people, who form a small proportion of the victims of violence.
Traditional Unionist Voice leader Jim Allister called for tough sentences, together with the mechanisms to challenge any punishment viewed to be lenient, but he said a one-size-fits-all approach proposed by mandatory sentencing would prove unworkable.
The former lawyer cited a case in which an elderly paedophile was punched by the father of one of his victims - arguing that society might find it unreasonable that the man faces a lengthy prison term for the assault.
Justice Minister David Ford endorsed the need to leave sentencing to judges and he said he would resist the call for him to table legislation on enforcing minimum prison terms.
"Crimes against the elderly and more vulnerable people in our society are abhorrent and it is right that politicians across the Assembly condemn them," he said in a statement.
"The impact on the victim is dreadful and often long lasting. But it must be remembered that people aged 65 and over remain the least likely to become a victim of violent crime.
"I know this will act as no small comfort to those who have been the victims of horrendous crimes but I would not want today's debate to feed an unnecessary level of fear amongst our older population."
A total of 85 MLAs voted on the DUP motion, with 44 supporting it and 41 voting against it.