· Bill proposes tougher sentencing for repeat burglars
· Minister Fitzgerald: “I am determined that those who invade and disrupt the lives of citizens in this way are dealt with robustly.”
Wednesday 15 April 2015
Frances Fitzgerald T.D., Minister for Justice and Equality, today published the General Scheme of the Criminal Justice (Burglary of Dwellings) Bill which was approved by Government.
The Minister said: “I have today secured Government approval for the publication of a General Scheme of the Criminal Justice (Burglary of Dwellings) Bill to target repeat burglars. The draft Bill will be sent for pre-legislative scrutiny to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice and I hope to introduce it into the Dáil this term.”
The Minister is carrying out a broad review of the criminal justice system’s response to the problem of burglaries. This includes a focus on interagency measures in relation to the management of prolific offenders, visible policing, crime prevention support for communities, and an examination of legislative issues.
The Minister continued: “This legislation underscores the importance of the home which is recognised by Article 40.5 of the Constitution. It states: ‘‘The dwelling of every citizen is inviolable and shall not be forcibly entered save in accordance with law.”
“Burglary of a person’s home is very traumatic for the victim, is a serious offence and always has the danger to escalate into an offence against the person. It is the combination of the serious nature of the offence and the fact that burglars tend to be repeat offenders that warrants specific measures aimed at prolific burglars.”
The Minister stated: “This Bill is proportionate in that it is targeted at offenders with previous convictions who are charged with multiple offences of residential burglary. I am determined that those who invade and disrupt the lives of citizens in this way are dealt with robustly.”
A significant proportion of burglaries are carried out by repeat offenders. Targeting these repeat offenders has the potential to significantly reduce the harm being caused. Two issues which can be tackled by legislation have been identified. One relates to repeat offenders who continue to receive bail despite being arrested and charged for further burglaries multiple times while on bail. The other relates to the fact that relatively short sentences can be imposed when multiple burglary offences are taken into account.
Firstly, the Bill will provide that, for the purposes of bail applications, a previous conviction for domestic burglary coupled with two or more pending charges shall be evidence of a likelihood to commit further domestic burglaries. This provision, while leaving the courts all necessary discretion to vindicate the constitutional rights of an accused person, would allow a court in the absence of evidence to the contrary to conclude that the accused is likely to commit a serious offence and could, therefore, refuse bail on that ground.
Secondly, the Bill will place a requirement on a court which decides to impose custodial sentences for multiple burglary offences to impose such sentences consecutively. The Bill will require that any sentence of imprisonment for a second domestic burglary must be consecutive to any sentence of imprisonment for any other domestic burglary committed in the six months prior to or after the second sentenced offence.
The discretion of a court whether or not to impose a custodial sentence will not, of course, be restricted. It will still be a matter for the sentencing court to decide whether imprisonment is warranted for any given offence and, if so, the duration of the custodial sentence for each offence.
The General Scheme of the Criminal Justice (Burglary of Dwellings) Bill is available at http://www.justice.ie/en/JELR/Pages/PB15000106
Note for Editors
The General Scheme of the Criminal Justice (Burglary of Dwellings) Bill was approved by Government on 15 April 2015 and will now proceed to detailed drafting. It is being forwarded to the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality for pre-legislative scrutiny and public consultation.
Provisions of the General Scheme
Bail in burglary cases
A decision to grant bail in a particular case is a matter for the court, which is, subject only to the Constitution and the law, independent in the exercise of its judicial functions. There is a constitutional presumption in favour of bail because, in the eyes of the law, a person is innocent until proven guilty.
Section 2 of the Bail Act 1997, which gave effect to the Sixteenth Amendment of the Constitution, permits the courts to refuse bail to a person charged with a serious offence where refusal of bail is reasonably considered necessary to prevent the commission of a serious offence by that person. Burglary offences under the Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud Offences) Act 2001 are serious offences for the purposes of the Bail Act.
Head 1 of the General Scheme provides for a new section to be inserted into the Bail Act 1997. The new provision will apply to proceedings where a court is considering a bail application from an adult charged with a domestic burglary. In such a case, if the accused person (a) has been convicted of a domestic burglary no more than 5 years before the bail application and (b) is awaiting trial for at least two other domestic burglaries or is awaiting sentence for at least two other domestic burglaries, that fact shall be evidence of the likelihood that the person will commit a further domestic burglary.
The court must have regard to the likelihood of the accused person committing a further domestic burglary when determining whether refusal of bail is reasonably considered necessary to prevent the commission of a serious offence by the accused person.
Consecutive Sentences for Burglary
Head 2 of the General Scheme provides for a new section to be inserted into the Criminal Justice (Theft and Fraud Offences) Act 2001. The new section will apply only to adults previously convicted of a burglary committed within five years of the instant conviction.
Under the new provision, any sentence of imprisonment for a second domestic burglary must be consecutive to any sentence of imprisonment for any other domestic burglary committed in the six months prior to or after the second sentenced offence. The aggregate period of imprisonment for such consecutive sentences imposed by the District Court can extend to 2 years. No such restriction will apply to the Circuit Court.
The new provision also requires that where a court decides to take a further domestic burglary offence into consideration and decides to impose a sentence of imprisonment for such further offence, such a sentence must be consecutive.