Republic of Ireland news

Ruling on suspended sentences raises constitutional issues in Republic

The caretaker government is under huge pressure to urgently plug a hole in the legislation after the High Court backed a challenge by six convicted offenders  
Brian Hutton, Press Association

THE use of suspended jail sentences has been thrown into disarray after a judge ruled that enforcing them can be unconstitutional.

The caretaker government is under huge pressure to urgently plug a hole in the legislation after the High Court backed a challenge by six convicted offenders.

In his 30-page ruling, Judge Michael Moriarty found key elements of the Criminal Justice Act 2006 were in breach of their rights.

They relate to the power of the courts to activate a suspended sentence when the convicted person re-offends.

The Government's chief legal advisor has been asked to make sense of the ruling.

The Department of Justice said Attorney General Maire Whelan is examining the findings.

"The department can confirm that the consequences and implications of today's ruling by Justice Moriarty are currently being examined in consultation with the Attorney General," a spokeswoman said.

The section of law found to be unconstitutional is used almost every day of the week in criminal courts country-wide.

Six young men, convicted of offences including driving without insurance, attempted robbery and violent disorder, mounted a legal challenge over their suspended sentences being activated.

The suspension of a sentence by a judge generally allows a convicted offender to avoid prison if they remain on good behaviour.

But confusion has reigned over the enforcement of the original sentence and the problems that causes if a person re-offends and would normally be sentenced by a different court or judge.

The law around the use of the sentences has been tweaked twice before but remained controversial.

Judge Moriarty said: "But what is beyond doubt is that the intended path has proved thorny, beset with problems, and results in recurring applications on behalf of such accused persons..."

The High Court judge said the contentious section of the law "was drafted and enacted by persons quite unacquainted of the actual practices of the courts, and in particular of the District and Circuit Courts".

He added: "I am quite certain that the myriad difficulties which have arisen with the section could have been avoided if any proper effort had been made to consult the judges who actually implement the procedures for the activation of a suspended sentence."

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