Sunday 17 December 2017

First prisoner set free as chaos looms over suspended sentences

High Court Judge Michael Moriarty. Photo: Steve Humphreys
High Court Judge Michael Moriarty. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Tim Healy and Niall O'Connor

The first prisoner has been freed as the law on suspended sentences remains in chaos.

Three others are now seeking to be released, after High Court Judge Michael Moriarty declared unconstitutional the provisions allowing for revocation of suspended sentences.

But it will be next week until further clarity is given on the solution to the crisis.

The prisoner who was released yesterday had received a three-year sentence in January 2014, with the last 12 months suspended, on a charge of theft.

The man was released with the consent of the State, as lawyers said they were not standing over his detention.

A High Court judge will next week clarify the scope of orders to be made following the significant judgment made last Tuesday.

Even though it has been four days since that judgment, there is still no emergency legislation.

Acting Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald has been cloistered in talks on the formation of a new government.

A statement last night said she would be asking for approval of emergency legislation next week "with a view to it being enacted as soon as possible".

But last night there was further confusion over the issue of activating suspended sentences.

Just hours after the prisoner was released, Mr Justice Seamus Noonan was told an "issue" had arisen as to the exact scope of the orders Mr Justice Moriarty intends to make arising from his judgment.

Those final orders were due to be made on May 5 but will now be addressed next Wednesday, said Shane Murphy SC, for the Governor of Portlaoise Prison. Counsel asked for an adjournment of a challenge by a prisoner to the lawfulness of his detention in Portlaoise.

Mr Justice Noonan said he would adjourn, as the court could not decide the issues fully until there was further clarification.

Earlier yesterday, Mr Justice Noonan had freed the first of the four prisoners seeking release, on foot of a challenge to the legality of his detention. It was brought under Article 40 which requires the immediate release of any person not detained in accordance with law.

The man had previously been released having served the twoyear custodial term but again remanded in custody earlier this month, for the purposes of activating the suspended 12 months, after admitting a different offence. Following the striking down of the revocation power, he claimed he was unlawfully in custody.

One of the three other people seeking release was previously jailed on robbery and firearms charges, another did time for drugs offences.

The statement from the Department of Justice last night said that any issues that may arise at the Final Order hearing next Wednesday would be taken into account when it came to deciding on the issue of emergency legislation.

It added that the relevant Section 99 of the Criminal Justice Act 2006 "has been under review in the Department and, as part of this, legal advices had been sought as part of the examination of the section".

Irish Independent

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