Thursday 30 March 2017

Dearbhail McDonald: Law must change to ensure women feel safer

Anthony Lyons
Anthony Lyons
Dearbhail McDonald

Dearbhail McDonald

When he is released from prison, businessman Anthony Lyons will return to a degree of wealth that most of us can only dream of.

The aviation millionaire was convicted of sexual assault in 2012, having attacked a woman some two years earlier while she was walking home at night along Griffith Avenue, in Dublin.

Were it not for the fortuitous intervention of a passer-by, who heard the woman's cries, Lyons - who claimed he was overcome with an "irresistible urge" due to the combination of alcohol, cholesterol medicine and cough syrup - could have faced much more serious charges and his victim an even worse fate.

There was an outcry when Lyons was given a six-month jail term (six years, with five-and-a-half suspended) by Dublin's Circuit Criminal Court.

Sentencing Lyons, Judge Desmond Hogan also made a €75,000 compensation order under a 22-year-old law.

That law allows a court to require that the victim be paid compensation by the offender "instead of or in addition to dealing with him in any other way".

The making of the compensation order raised a misapprehension that, owing to his wealth, Lyons had somehow bought his way out of what would otherwise have been a longer jail term.

The vast majority of convicted people have little means, making compensation orders as rare as hen teeth. But although Judge Hogan was entitled to make the order, it did little to dampen public anger at the overall outcome.

Unsurprisingly, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions appealed the sentence on grounds of undue leniency. But owing to then chronic delays at the Court of Criminal Appeal (now a 10-strong, permanent Court of Appeal) as well as the illness of a judge - which meant the appeal had to be reheard - Lyons enjoyed more than a year-and-a-half of freedom before he was rejailed.

At the appeal it emerged that Lyons had paid his victim almost €200,000, including legal costs, and in August 2014, he received an additional 18 months in prison. But perhaps the most important part of the new sentence was the court's acknowledgment that the actions of people like Lyons instils fear in every woman who walks in a public area which is quiet without others around.

As Lyons enjoys his freedom, it is up to our lawmakers to reform the law to ensure compensation orders are only used in addition to, and never instead of, custodial sentences for serious sex attacks.

Irish Independent

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