Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Stiffen sentences for hit-and-run killers

It is easy to understand the continuing anger of Londonderry couple Martin and Elizabeth Gallagher at the sentence handed out to the man who killed their son 10 years ago in a hit-and-run incident
It is easy to understand the continuing anger of Londonderry couple Martin and Elizabeth Gallagher at the sentence handed out to the man who killed their son 10 years ago in a hit-and-run incident

Editor's Viewpoint

It is easy to understand the continuing anger of Londonderry couple Martin and Elizabeth Gallagher at the sentence handed out to the man who killed their son 10 years ago in a hit-and-run incident.

He was given a three-year sentence with another three spent on licence outside prison. But for Martin and Elizabeth, every day is just part of a life sentence.

The public often forgets that judges are under some constraint when passing sentence. They are bound by sentencing guidelines and must take into account mitigating circumstances, such as early guilty pleas, co-operation with police and remorse, as well as aggravating factors, such as intent and excessive violence.

But there are no mitigating factors for Martin and Elizabeth. They cannot shorten their life sentence of missing their adored son. They cannot bring their grief or pain to an end at the stroke of a pen.

They have spoken out in response to the launch of a public consultation on sentencing review by Department of Justice - and the depth of their feeling is evident.

They argue that anyone who takes a life through dangerous driving should serve a life sentence in jail.

That echoes views expressed a couple of years ago in England and there have been several families in Northern Ireland who have felt they did not receive justice for the death of a loved one in a hit-and-run incident.

Sign In

Two families recently joined forces to call for stiffer sentences. One was the family of a teenage girl killed while out jogging in Co Armagh who saw the driver's sentence cut on appeal because he had shown genuine remorse.

The other was the family of a university student knocked down in Belfast by a driver under the influence of drink and drugs. They successfully campaigned for his original sentence to be increased.

It has often been said that a car is one of the most dangerous weapons in society, as the number of road deaths testify. There is much sympathy for families who lose loved ones at the hands of drunken, drugged or dangerous drivers.

While mandatory sentences often can be blunt instruments for delivering justice, there is certainly a case for legislators to review current sentencing limits, not only taking account of the seriousness of the crime but also the lasting impact on bereaved families.

The problem in Northern Ireland is that we have no legislators while Stormont continues to lie dormant.

Belfast Telegraph

Popular

From Belfast Telegraph