Only system change can send out right message
MURDER is the most horrific crime and leaves families with a life sentence. In my son's case, Martin Toland was sentenced to nine years in prison for the manslaughter of Alan and was also sentenced to a concurrent seven years in prison for seriously injuring James Carroll during the same incident.
The presiding judge, Mr Justice Barry White, handed down a nine-year sentence, despite wanting to impose a longer sentence of 14 years, but was constrained by the Court of Criminal Appeal from imposing such a sentence.
It fundamentally destroyed my family's faith in the justice system.
As I said at the time of the trial, the courts process is a game played out by two teams, and our children are the ones who lose. Justice never wins.
In the debate about sentencing for unlawful killings, we have to recognise that it continues to be the case that the rights of the accused are placed above those of the victim.
While the Law Reform Commission's report on mandatory sentences is to be welcomed, unfortunately its recommendations do not go far enough. The commission recommends that judges should be able to recommend a minimum sentence for anyone convicted of murder.
Toland was charged with the murder of my son, but was ultimately only convicted of manslaughter, so this recommendation, even if it was to be implemented, would not apply.
Mr Justice White's comments illustrate the fact that there is an issue with the justice system, if a judge feels that he is unable to hand down a more appropriate sentence. This is further compounded by the perception of a lot of families who feel that the State often pursues a manslaughter charge as the conviction is easier to obtain.
He robbed me and my family of my son, a burden we have to carry for the rest of our lives. What sort of message does it send out to society that you can receive a higher sentence for selling drugs than for killing someone? It really makes you wonder what value the justice system places on human life.
It is my belief, a view also shared by other families who form part of AdVIC, that we have to introduce a system of murder by degree and scrap the charge of manslaughter. As part of this system, minimum sentences would be associated with each level. It would send a clear signal to society that justice has been served and also rebalance the system to respect the rights of victims.
We must not forget that in all of these cases a human life has been taken in violence. As a society we are entitled to feel protected from such violence. It has to be recognised that violence is a serious problem for society and it is incumbent on our criminal justice system to respond by sending the strongest message that this most serious of crimes will attract long sentences.
* Marian Nolan is member of Advocates for victims of homicide Ireland (AdVIC). Marian's son, Alan Nolan, was stabbed to death by Martin Toland. Toland was convicted of manslaughter for the crime.