Thursday 26 April 2018

Legal loophole sees inmates transferred from UK jails go free

The Four Courts in Dublin
The Four Courts in Dublin
Mark O'Regan

Mark O'Regan

New laws are needed after it emerged 10 prisoners - including a convicted drug smuggler - have been released from prison because of a legal loophole.

Three men convicted of plotting a bombing campaign in Britain also had to be set free.

All the prisoners involved had been transferred to Irish prisons after receiving lengthy sentences in the UK. But they had to be released last year.

As a result, a stay has been put on all applications for prisoner transfers from the UK.

There are now growing concerns that other prisoners may have to be set free because of various legal complexities in this area.

A Justice Department spokesman confirmed to the Irish Independent that resolving the matter may involve an appeal to the Supreme Court.

The problem arose after a transferred prisoner challenged his imprisonment here - on the grounds that there are significant differences between Irish and UK sentencing policies - which invalidated his detention warrant.

In the UK, prisoners have the right to release on licence after they serve two-thirds of their sentence - and in some cases only half. But in Ireland prisoners must serve at least three-quarters of their sentence.

Vincent Sweeney was jailed in the UK in 2006 for smuggling €3m worth of drugs into England. He secured a move to an Irish prison in 2008 under the Transfer of Sentenced Persons Acts. However, he claimed he should be entitled to the early release due to him under the English system, and that the warrant detaining him in prison here was defective.

He lost a High Court challenge on this point but won on appeal to the Supreme Court last July, following which his immediate release was ordered.

Three other men, Fintan O'Farrell, Declan Rafferty, and Michael McDonald, were convicted in 2002 of trying to buy weapons and explosions for an intended Real IRA bombing campaign in the UK. They secured transfer to Ireland in 2006. Following the Sweeney ruling, they challenged their continued detention, and the High Court ordered their immediate release last December.

A Department of Justice spokesman confirmed steps have been taken to appeal the latest case to the Supreme Court.

Irish Independent

Today's news headlines, directly to your inbox every morning.

Editor's Choice

Also in Irish News