314. Deputy Maureen O'Sullivan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality if the practice of concurrent sentencing for very serious crimes is proving difficult for families of victims; if she has consulted with Victims' Rights Alliance when drawing up legislation dealing with sentencing and bail conditions; and if including the opinions of victim advocate groups in legislation would facilitate a more transparent system. [41337/15]
Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): The Deputy will appreciate that it would not be appropriate for me to comment on specific criminal sentences that have been imposed. In this regard the courts are independent in matters of sentencing and, as in other matters concerning the exercise of judicial functions, subject only to the Constitution and the law.
In respect of sentencing, the position is that the law generally sets out the maximum sentence that can be imposed for an offence and it is then a matter for the court to decide the appropriate sentence in each particular case, taking into account all the circumstances. However, provision has also been made in legislation requiring the courts to impose custodial sentences consecutively in certain situations, including where offences are committed by persons on bail.
In addition, I would draw the attention of the Deputy to the Criminal Justice (Burglary of Dwellings) Bill 2015 which deals with the issue of multiple home burglaries and is currently before this House. In practice many burglary offences are committed by the same persons and the Bill will amend existing legislation to require a court which decides to impose custodial sentences for multiple domestic burglary offences committed within a 12 month window to impose such sentences consecutively. This Bill is being progressed very actively by the Government and I expect that it will be enacted during the current parliamentary session.
As regards bail conditions, the position is that in July the Government approved the drafting of a Bail Bill which will strengthen the operation of the bail system and make the law as effective as possible in protecting the public against crimes committed by persons on bail. This legislation is currently being drafted on a priority basis and it is my intention that the Bill will be published as soon as possible.
The new Bail Bill will contain a number of provisions to strengthen protection for victims. For example, in addition to any other bail condition that a court can impose, the Bill will provide that a court may require an accused person not to have contact with the victim of the alleged offence or any member of the victim’s family unless the contact is authorised by the court. I also propose to make specific provision in the Bill for victim evidence to be heard in bail proceedings in cases where there may be a likelihood of harm or intimidation to the victim or a family member of the victim.
Both I and my Department engage extensively with groups representing victims of crime. In this context I always consider carefully any proposals for legislative changes the groups put forward.