Sentencing review must still be completed, insists MLA
A Department of Justice review into maximum sentencing must not be allowed to gather dust, an SDLP MLA has insisted.
Daniel McCrossan was speaking after receiving a letter from the department's Permanent Secretary, Nick Perry, confirming that work on the review is continuing.
However, in the letter Mr Perry added that having a Justice Minister in post would provide political direction and oversight.
"The Department of Justice, like all Government departments, supports the early re-establishment of the devolved administration. With regard to the review of sentencing policy the work is continuing apace but the early appointment of a Justice Minister would provide the Department with necessary political direction and ensure that the scope of the work is subject to proper political oversight," he wrote.
"However, in the absence of a Minister, the review's work will continue to progress in anticipation of the formation of an Executive in due course."
Mr McCrossan welcomed the response but voiced concern over whether potential outcomes will be actioned.
"I welcome the fact that work is continuing on this important review into sentencing in Northern Ireland. However, I do question what actions or outcomes there will be following publication due to a lack of an Executive or the instalment of direct rule Ministers," he said.
"This review involves very important areas such as crimes against the elderly, hate crimes and crimes involving causing death by dangerous driving.
"This is a fundamental review into sentencing in Northern Ireland and represented the last opportunity for many families who feel they have suffered great injustices due to lenient court sentencing.
"These families, such as the Dolan family in Omagh who had their son Enda taken from them, deserve so much better. They do not want what happened to them to happen to any other family."
Enda Dolan's father Peter said it is imperative the review is completed. Next Sunday marks the third anniversary of his 18-year-old son's death.
The teen had been returning to his accommodation at Queen's University, where he was studying architecture, when he was killed by 31-year-old David Lee Stewart.
Initially Stewart was sentenced to seven years - to serve half in prison - but following an appeal brought by the Dolan family, he will now serve four-and-a-half years behind bars and the same period on licence. The court at the time heard how Stewart had taken drugs and downed 13 drinks before getting behind the wheel with passenger 21-year-old William Ross Casement.
Stewart also received a five-year driving ban which runs concurrently with his time behind bars, a punishment the Dolan family say is pointless. Mr Dolan said he and his family have been fighting for the sentencing review.
"There have been numerous cases since ours where the people involved received poor and inadequate sentences," he told the Belfast Telegraph.
"When a defendant goes to court everything is geared towards them, towards whatever issues they have but it is more important to take the victims and victims' families views and feelings into consideration."
He added that having to appeal the "unduly lenient" sentence added "extra stress" on his family and that he would like to see a minimum tariff of 20 years to life for causing death by dangerous driving.
"We appealed the original sentence and we had to relive the whole thing all over again; it is not fair, it needs to be changed."
The review will look at whether to increase sentences for hate crimes, those against the elderly and death by dangerous driving.