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Ceisteanna—Questions. Oral Answers. - Court Sentences.

Tuesday, 7 June 1966

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 223 No. 1

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[43]63.

Mr. S. Dunne: Information on Seán Dunne Zoom on Seán Dunne asked the Minister for Justice if he is aware of public dissatisfaction that sentences imposed on persons convicted of theft and personal assault do not effectively discourage such crimes; and if he will introduce legislation to increase the maximum sentences which may be imposed in such cases and to provide for minimum sentences.

Minister for Justice (Mr. B. Lenihan): Information on Patrick J. Lenihan Zoom on Patrick J. Lenihan I have no evidence of any public dissatisfaction with decisions of the criminal courts, generally.

It may appear from the necessarily abbreviated accounts of cases published in the newspapers that some penalties are unduly lenient but it must be appreciated that the trial Judge's assessment of the punishment which is proper for the offence is, subject to law, the only possible course.

The maximum sentences for the offences of theft and personal assault, referred to by the Deputy, are severe by any standards. The maximum penalty for simple larceny is five years penal servitude and related offences, such as robbery with violence, are punishable by much heavier penalties. The maximum penalty for common assault is six months imprisonment and various serious assaults are punishable by much heavier penalties, some by penal servitude for life.

Certain cases of theft and assault may be dealt with by a District Justice who cannot impose a heavier sentence than 12 months imprisonment, but the District Justice, before dealing with a criminal charge, must be of opinion that the facts proved or alleged constitute a minor offence fit to be tried summarily.

Minimum penalties are bad in principle, are rare in existing law and would be totally unsuitable in the case of the offences in question which can vary widely in triviality and seriousness.

Mr. T.F. O'Higgins entered the Chamber.

Mr. S. Dunne: Information on Seán Dunne Zoom on Seán Dunne I am as happy as anybody to see Deputy T.F. O'Higgins.

[44]Deputies: Hear, hear.

Mr. S. Dunne: Information on Seán Dunne Zoom on Seán Dunne I congratulate him most sincerely. Arising out of the Minister's reply, I should like to know, when he says there is no evidence of public dissatisfaction with the sentences which are being meted out, what he would consider satisfactory evidence.

Mr. Sweetman: Information on Gerard Sweetman Zoom on Gerard Sweetman A petition by 548,000 people.

Mr. Hilliard: Information on Michael Hilliard Zoom on Michael Hilliard It was won by Dev.

Mr. S. Dunne: Information on Seán Dunne Zoom on Seán Dunne Does the Minister not agree that the newspaper reports to which he has referred are the only means by which the public can judge what is happening in respect of the administration of justice in this city and that these newspaper reports give room for serious concern on the part of the public in so far as it would appear that individuals and groups of people in areas——

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Patrick Hogan Zoom on Patrick Hogan This is not a question; it is a statement.

Mr. S. Dunne: Information on Seán Dunne Zoom on Seán Dunne Naturally, in the circumstances of the moment it is somewhat difficult. The answer to my original question was very lengthy. When the Minister refers to the fact that the only avenues open to the public, in so far as reports of the administration of justice are concerned, are the reports appearing in the newspapers, does he not consider that, on that basis, there is room for public concern as to the general leniency — one can find no other word for it — in the operation of the law where serious crime is committed by individuals and groups which sometimes results in the terrorisation of neighbourhoods? Does the Minister not realise that this is not good enough? Will he take whatever steps are open to him to let the justices know that they are there to protect the community and that the community are concerned with the present position so far as reports are concerned?

Mr. B. Lenihan: Information on Patrick J. Lenihan Zoom on Patrick J. Lenihan I have met the district justices on the question of uniformity. There is no undue leniency. In any country where a courts system [45] operates such as that which operates here, no system is possible other than the system of a judge who will hear all the facts and decide upon them. He is in a much better position to judge——

Mr. Mullen: Information on Michael Mullen Zoom on Michael Mullen Surely the Minister is aware of the grave disquiet that exists among people when it is found that there is discrimination in the dispensing of justice in relation to who a person is and what money——

Mr. B. Lenihan: Information on Patrick J. Lenihan Zoom on Patrick J. Lenihan I repudiate that.

Mr. L'Estrange: Information on Gerald L'Estrange Zoom on Gerald L'Estrange It is quite true.

Mr. Mullen: Information on Michael Mullen Zoom on Michael Mullen This is quite true and it has left people wondering.

Mr. L'Estrange: Information on Gerald L'Estrange Zoom on Gerald L'Estrange What about informations refused? What about the position in my county concerning a Fianna Fáil supporter?

Mr. B. Lenihan: Information on Patrick J. Lenihan Zoom on Patrick J. Lenihan It is absolutely untrue. The Deputy is doing a grave disservice to the community.

Mr. L'Estrange: Information on Gerald L'Estrange Zoom on Gerald L'Estrange It is quite true.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Patrick Hogan Zoom on Patrick Hogan The Deputy may not discuss certain decisions.

Mr. Mullen: Information on Michael Mullen Zoom on Michael Mullen In support of what I have said, a District Justice has been found to be involved in an accident and he got quite away with it compared with the ordinary individual.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Patrick Hogan Zoom on Patrick Hogan I cannot allow particular cases to be quoted here.

Mr. Coughlan: Information on Stephen Coughlan Zoom on Stephen Coughlan They were all appointed on their merits as members of the Fianna Fáil Party.

Mr. Dillon: Information on James Matthew Dillon Zoom on James Matthew Dillon If the purpose is effectively to control what is popularly known as gang warfare in the cities and towns, would the Minister not consider that prevention is better than punishment and that adequate street patrols by the Garda Síochána are the appropriate remedy?

Mr. B. Lenihan: Information on Patrick J. Lenihan Zoom on Patrick J. Lenihan I agree with Deputy Dillon that prevention is all important. We are introducing walkie-talkie [46] patrols in order to provide greater co-ordination between Gardaí on the beat. In addition, we are considering legislation to deal with this whole problem of crimes of violence in a more effective way.

Mr. S. Dunne: Information on Seán Dunne Zoom on Seán Dunne I wish——

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Patrick Hogan Zoom on Patrick Hogan I cannot allow any further questions.

Mr. S. Dunne: Information on Seán Dunne Zoom on Seán Dunne I was only going to say that I wish, with your permission, Sir, to raise this matter on the Adjournment.

An Ceann Comhairle: Information on Patrick Hogan Zoom on Patrick Hogan I will communicate with the Deputy. The remaining questions will appear on tomorrow's Order Paper.


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