Sentencing should be a deterrent
It is easy to understand the disappointment and frustration of the family of a young man imprisoned in a wheelie bin at the sentences handed down to his tormentors. They know the victim underwent a horrific ordeal - he was left naked in the taped-up bin - and now suffers from post traumatic stress.
The incident may have started out as a drunken prank but the young man was only released from the bin when he was found by chance by a man out walking his dog. It could have ended with a fatality.
Two of those involved in the incident were sentenced to three-and-a-half years and the third, a girl, to two years. Half the sentence will be spent in jail and the rest on licence.
With time already served in jail on remand, the trio will soon be back walking the streets of Ballymena.
The lay person may well ask if these sentences really reflect the serious nature of the offence. However, several factors have to be taken into account.
The trio pleaded guilty at an early opportunity and there were signs of genuine remorse, both factors which the judge had to take into account under sentencing guidelines. These guidelines set parameters within which judges must act when passing sentence.
And it also has to be remembered that when the trio are released on licence that is not the end of the matter. If they commit another offence within the designated period they can be returned to prison to serve the rest of these sentences.
However, the public might feel that the victim in this case is living under a greater shadow. He is fearful that some day soon when walking about his home town of Ballymena he could bump into one or all of the trio.
The public is also entitled to ask if these sentences send out the wrong message. Part of the role of the courts is to send out a deterrent signal to would-be offenders. It could appear that in this case there is less deterrent effect than should be expected.
This leads to the question if sentencing guidelines are too prescriptive or too restricting on judges or tend towards giving undue weight to the actions of those in the dock, such as a plea of guilty or signs of remorse.
ay be a case for looking again at the guidelines and see if they strike the right balance between giving the accused some credit but also taking into account the effect of the crime on the victim.