Belfast Telegraph

End of mandatory sentencing urged

Mandatory sentencing should be abolished for all offences except murder, legal experts have advised the Government.

The Law Reform Commission said criminals found guilty of certain gun and drug offences should no longer face set prison tariffs.

The group warned that the regime has only served to increase the number of what it called expendable couriers and low-level criminals being imprisoned, rather than secure convictions against those at the top of the organised crime chain.

Alongside the retention of mandatory life terms for murders, the commission said judges should be given an option of enforcing a minimum term to be served.

Lifers in Ireland now serve an average of 18 years behind bars.

The commission also backed plans for a judicial council to be set up to provide guidance on sentencing, including for crimes like rape, in order to improve deficiencies in the justice system.

Liam Herrick, executive director of the Irish Penal Reform Trust (IPRT), said mandatory sentencing has been proven to be counter-productive.

"It means the street corner drug dealer is treated the same as the top dealer," he said.

Controversial sentencing of rapists has been high profile in recent years after victims and campaigners spoke out after businessman Anthony Lyons, from Griffith Avenue in Dublin, was jailed last July for six years, with all but six months suspended for attacking a woman in 2010.

Subsequently, rape victim Fiona Doyle called for minimum tariffs for rape after her abuser father Patrick O'Brien was sentenced in January to 12 years in prison with nine years suspended and allowed to go free on bail pending an appeal. His bail was later revoked. Ms Doyle later met the Taoiseach to call for a change to sentencing rules.

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