Tuesday 23 July 2019

Tom Humphries sentencing: 'Thoughtful and conscientious' judge with reputation for 'relative leniency'

Judge: Karen O’Connor. Photo: Collins
Judge: Karen O’Connor. Photo: Collins

Mark O'Regan

The judge in the Tom Humphries case is widely regarded as "affable and compassionate" by her legal colleagues.

Judge Karen O'Connor, appointed to the bench in 2014, this week sentenced former journalist Humphries to two and a half years in prison, for the grooming and sexual abuse of a teenage girl.

During her three years as a Dublin Circuit Criminal Court judge, she has presided over a wide variety of cases.

Last May, she jailed a man who sexually assaulted a 10-year-old child - after showing her pornography - to 18 months behind bars.

In the same month, a defendant, who as a teenager sexually assaulted his six-year-old niece, was given a suspended sentence of two years and three months.

In July, a defendant with 190 previous convictions who drove dangerously during a high-speed chase involving gardai was imprisoned for three years, with six months suspended. The driver was also disqualified from driving for 10 years.

In another case, a father of four captured on CCTV stealing bicycles from a bike shed at an apartment complex, was jailed for two years. The bicycles and wheels were worth a total of €3,450, and €1,608 worth of damage was done to the shed.

Handing down the two-year sentence, Judge O'Connor took into account the defendant's co-operation with the investigation and his guilty plea.

Last August, she sentenced a man who set fire to a €34,000 BMW car at a luxury motor dealership, while he was on drugs, to two and a half years in prison.

The judge suspended the final 18 months of the sentence, and backdated the term to when he entered custody.

Separately, a care assistant who stole almost €20,000 from the bank account of an elderly nursing home resident was given a two-year custodial sentence, with the final 15 months suspended on strict conditions.

The defendant had been given two cheques by an 86-year-old woman, with whom she had become friendly, before forging further cheques, and stealing €19,900 from her account.

Adjudicating in another case, Judge O'Connor jailed a man for 14 months for stealing almost €2,000 worth of "hot pants and things like that" from the back of a delivery truck.

The defendant had 99 previous convictions, including 27 theft-related offences, and 67 road traffic offences.

Despite what at surface level may seem like inconsistency in this sentencing pattern, legal experts stress each case must be judged on its merits.

Speaking to the Sunday Independent, a variety of sources also insist Judge O'Connor is highly regarded among her peers.

Many point to the fact that she is extremely "thoughtful and conscientious" in the way that she goes about her work.

"She is determined to treat everybody who comes into her court as a human being," one senior counsel explained.

"The amount of agonising she puts into each sentence she hands down is enormous.

"She follows relevant legal guidelines to the letter - in terms of what she has to take into account."

Another well-placed source pointed out that a defendant's guilty plea has a major bearing on sentencing, particularly in sex offence cases.

"The plea is a huge factor because it means a victim doesn't have to give evidence.

"It's always considered a really important factor in such cases. On a personal level the judge is pleasant and personable. She's not left-wing, but would be considered as leftish in her outlook."

"She always takes absolute cognisance of the law. But she's perceived as being relatively lenient," said another colleague.

Educated in Trinity College Dublin, Judge O'Connor studied at the King's Inns.

She was called to the Bar in 1993. Before her appointment to the bench in 2014, she practised mainly in criminal law, with particular experience in extradition and judicial review cases. She helped establish the Irish Criminal Bar Association, where she held the position of press officer for a year.

Judge O'Connor was also involved in setting up an Educate Together National School in Dublin, sitting on the board of management for three years.

Sunday Independent

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