Thursday 25 December 2014

Sentence shows no one should be above the law

Published 29/07/2014 | 02:30

Former solicitor Heather Perrin
Former solicitor Heather Perrin

WE can only presume, in the absence of any credible explanation, that Ivor Callely fiddled his mobile expenses simply because he could.

This, in fact, is the most humane explanation as Callely's suggestion that responsibility for the fraud lay at the door of a close friend and business partner who committed suicide is even more unpalatable.

Sentencing at Dublin's Circuit Criminal Court was adjourned, at the request of trial judge Mary Ellen Ring, to facilitate legal submissions by the prosecution and defence.

Judge Ring wanted to hear submissions on whether the fact that Callely was a senior politician at the time of the offences was an aggravating factor in light of the position of trust he occupied.

The concept of public trust in those who hold political office or other positions of privilege in our society can seem quaint in an atmosphere of general public scepticism or cynicism.

And it is one that can be quite mercurial when parsed in the clinical settings of litigation or criminal proceedings.

For this reason, it can be hard to put a price on trust – or a penalty when it has been broken.

Callely's crime was, in one sense, at the lower scale of offending in a country where many believe – perhaps unfairly – that politicians and others are constantly "on the take".

Callely is no Charlie Haughey.

Judge Ring denied Callely's pleas for community service and imposed a five-month custodial sentence not only because he broke the law, but because he breached the trust placed in him as a public representative.

He is not alone.

In recent years, an unhallowed roll call of persons of status who were in a position of trust has been jailed for various crimes.

And the higher level of trust placed in those offenders has resulted in higher falls from grace.

These include Heather Perrin, the first judge in the history of the State to be jailed for a serious crime, in this case deception and other offences committed whilst practising as a solicitor.

Lawyers, including Dublin solicitors Ruairi O'Ceallaigh and Thomas Byrne are serving significant terms for their crimes.

Jailing Callely, Judge Ring said that politicians are not expected to be "superhumans".

But she said the court had to have regard for the significant breach of trust.

The sentence is a personal tragedy for Callely whose marriage has broken down and who is being pursued for an €11m soured property debt.

But it is a reminder that trust in public office does matter and that no one – especially lawmakers – are above the law.

Irish Independent

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