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Question

264. Deputy Donnchadh Ó Laoghaire asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the estimated cost of establishing a sentencing council; and the estimated full year running cost thereafter. [7046/18]

Answer

Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Charles Flanagan): As the Deputy will be aware, 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 an 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 which may be present. An important safeguard rests in the power of the Director of Public Prosecutions to apply to the Court of Appeal to review a sentence she regards as unduly lenient.
The Superior Courts have developed a substantial body of case law setting out general principles of sentencing. Sentencing practice was also developed by a steering committee of the Judiciary which developed the Irish Sentencing Committee website which was a pilot initiative designed to gather information about the range of sentences and other penalties that have been imposed for particular types of offences across court jurisdictions. The website can be accessed by members of the Judiciary and the public and is a valuable tool not only for members of the judiciary but also for lawyers, researchers and those concerned with the needs of victims and their families as well as members of the public.
The report of the Working Group on the Strategic Review of Penal Policy, published in July 2014, considered the issue of developing sentencing guidelines.  However, the majority of the Review Group 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. It might also be noted that a Sentencing Council was not advocated by the Law Reform Commission in its Report on Mandatory Sentencing which was published in June 2013.
The Deputy may wish to note 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 this respect it is appropriate for the courts to provide guidance on sentencing matters.
The Deputy will be aware that the Judicial Council Bill was published in June 2017 and is currently awaiting Committee Stage in Seanad Éireann.  The Bill provides for the establishment of a Judicial Council, the function of which will be to promote and maintain excellence in the exercise by judges of their judicial functions. The Council is specifically tasked with promoting an understanding of sentencing principles and practices among judges and persons other than judges. In this context, it will be assisted by a Sentencing Information Committee which will be responsible for the collation of sentencing information and the dissemination of that information.  The costs for the operation of that Committee have yet to be determined but were provisionally estimated at €400,000 for startup (including IT) costs and €200,000 for annual running costs.