Home > Mandatory sentences: consultation paper.

Law Reform Commission. (2011) Mandatory sentences: consultation paper. Dublin: Law Reform Commission.

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The Commission prepared this Consultation Paper (which runs to almost 200 pages) in response to a request from the Attorney General under the Law Reform Commission Act 1975 to carry out research on the law of mandatory sentences and, if appropriate, recommend reforms in relation to the circumstances in which it may be appropriate or beneficial to provide for mandatory sentences for offences.

Detailed analysis of the law on mandatory sentences and sentencing principles:
The Consultation Paper contains a detailed analysis of the development of the law in Ireland on mandatory sentences, as well as analysis of similar laws enacted in other jurisdictions such as the UK and US. The Commission also identified four main aims of criminal sanctions: (a) punishment, (b) deterrence, (c) rehabilitation and (d) reparation. The Commission also identified three key principles of sentencing: (a) the humanitarian principle (which incorporates respect for constitutional and international human rights), (b) the justice principle (including proportionality) and (c) the economic principle. The Commission has also set out the key principles of sentencing law, which form the basis for its responses to the Attorney General’s request.

The Commission notes that the only completely mandatory sentence in Ireland is the life sentence for murder – judges have no discretion here and must impose a life sentence, and do not even have the power to suggest any specific minimum sentence, unlike the position in Northern Ireland where the sentencing judge can recommend a minimum life tariff (as in the recent case of former dentist Colin Howell, where the judge recommended a 21 year minimum term).

The Commission also examined other “presumptive” mandatory sentences, such as those introduced in 1999 for certain drugs offences and in 2006 for certain firearms offences. The drugs offence law states that 10 years should be imposed where the “street value” is over €13,000, but also allows for a lesser sentence in exceptional circumstances. The Commission also examined other mandatory sentences law which require judges to impose higher or consecutive sentences where the convicted person is, for example, a repeat offender.

Main recommendations
The main recommendations in the Consultation Paper are:
• the Commission supports the recommendations (most recently reiterated in the 2011 Report of the Thornton Hall Review Group) that the proposed Judicial Council be empowered to develop and publish suitable guidance or guidelines on sentencing; and also provisionally recommends that these would have regard to decisions of the Court of Criminal Appeal, to the sentencing principles discussed in the Consultation Paper, and to information in databases such as the Court Service’s Irish Sentencing Information System (ISIS).
• the Commission provisionally recommends that, while the use of the entirely mandatory sentence may be applied to the offence of murder, it should be amended to provide that, on the date of sentencing, the court should be empowered to indicate or recommend that a minimum specific term should be served by the defendant, having regard to the particular circumstances of the offence and of the offender.
• the Commission provisionally recommends that the presumptive sentencing regime, as it applies in the case of certain drugs and firearms offences, should not be extended to any other offences but should be reviewed because, while it has succeeded in one objective, namely, an increased severity of sentences for certain drugs and firearms offences, it has not been established that it has achieved another general aim of the criminal justice system, namely reduced levels of criminality. The Commission notes that, in particular, the presumptive drugs offences regime has had the following results: a discriminatory system of sentencing where all cases are treated alike regardless of differences in the individual circumstances of the offenders; the adaptation of the illegal drugs industry to the sentencing regime by using expendable couriers to hold and transport drugs; that these relatively low-level offenders, rather than those at the top of the drugs industry, are being apprehended and dealt with under the presumptive regime; a high level of guilty pleas in order to avoid the presumptive minimum sentence; and a consequent bulge in the prison system comprising low-level drugs offenders.
• the Commission provisionally recommends that the existing legislation concerning mandatory sentences (and, where relevant, presumptive mandatory sentences) as it applies in the case of second and subsequent offences should not be extended to any other offences; but the Commission also considers that, as a general proposition, a statutory framework that takes account in sentencing of repeat offending is consistent with the general aims of the criminal justice system and the principles of sentencing.


Date:January 2011
Pages:217 p.
Publisher:Law Reform Commission
Corporate Creators:Law Reform Commission
Place of Publication:Dublin
EndNote:View
Accession Number:HRB (Electronic Only)
Related URLs:
Subjects:VA Geographic area > Europe > Ireland
L Social psychology and related concepts > Mode of participation > Involuntary (mandatory) participation
MM-MO Crime and law > Criminal penalty

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