Monday 27 February 2017

Inmates queuing up to challenge detention

Shane Phelan

Shane Phelan

Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald (Photo: Tom Burke)
Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald (Photo: Tom Burke)

The feared exodus of prisoners from our jails in the aftermath of Mr Justice Michael Moriarty's ruling on suspended sentences has yet to materialise.

Last month, the High Court judge found that Section 99 of the Criminal Justice Act 2006 was unconstitutional, as it curtailed the ability of individuals to appeal convictions.

Because of the way the law was constructed, someone who received a suspended sentence and later re-offended would have their suspended sentence activated before they could appeal against the second "triggering" conviction.

The judge's ruling came after challenges to the constitutionality of the law from six prisoners.

At least nine more have mounted challenges since the ruling. But so far none have had the activation of their suspended sentence set aside.

The tide has been stemmed somewhat by the fact Mr Justice Moriarty has yet to issue his final orders. This has seen those challenges repeatedly adjourned, with other High Court judges unwilling to proceed until Mr Justice Moriarty is done.

This should happen soon, with submissions being sought by Mr Justice Moriarty today before he finalises matters.

In the meantime, some of the challengers have sought to be released on bail. Only one of three such applications to come before the courts has been successful.

In one of those cases, it was made clear that the applicant could not expect to be freed as they had pleaded guilty to the so-called triggering offence.

It is likely others who pleaded guilty to the triggering offence will also be given short shrift by the courts.

The delays have bought Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald more time to put a solution in place. Draft emergency legislation prepared by the Attorney General is now ready to go, and should be brought before the Oireachtas once the final orders are known.

Irish Independent

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