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Question

53. Deputy Pádraig Mac Lochlainn asked the Minister for Justice and Equality her views on the Private Members' Bill, the Sentencing Council Bill 2015. [42456/15]

Answer

Deputy Frances Fitzgerald: As the Deputy will appreciate, judges are independent in the matter of sentencing, as in other matters concerning the exercise of judicial functions, subject only to the Constitution and the law. In regard to sentencing, the approach of the Oireachtas has generally been to specify in law a maximum penalty for an offence, so that a court, having considered all the circumstances of a case, may impose the appropriate penalty up to that maximum. The court is required to impose a sentence which is proportionate not only to the crime but to the individual offender in that process, identifying where on the sentencing range the particular case should lie and then applying any mitigating factors. An important safeguard rests in the power of the Director of Public Prosecutions.
The superior courts have developed a substantial body of case law setting out general principles of sentencing. Sentencing practice is also being developed by a steering committee of the Judiciary which developed the Irish Sentencing Information System website, a pilot initiative designed to gather information about the range of sentences and other penalties across court jurisdictions. That system is being developed as a valuable tool not only for members of the Judiciary but also for lawyers, researchers and those concerned. I very much support that initiative, led the Judicial Research Office.
The report of the Working Group on the Strategic Review of Penal Policy, which as the Deputy will know I published in July 2014, considered the issue of developing sentencing guidelines. The majority took the view that the primary role of developing sentencing guidelines is the responsibility of the Judiciary and does not lie in bringing forward detailed statutory based guidelines. I recognise that the Deputy has published a Bill on this issue. A sentencing council was not advocated by the Law Reform Commission in its report on mandatory sentencing, which was published in June 2013.
I advise the Deputy about a matter, which is not that well known, namely, that in 2014, the Court of Criminal Appeal issued a number of judgments which addressed the question of sentencing and which acknowledged the many factors that can be considered in individual cases which undermine the usefulness of direct comparisons between one case and another. Nonetheless, every effort to promote consistency should be made and, in that respect, it is appropriate for the courts to consider the provision of guidance on sentencing matters.