Sunday 18 November 2018

'I am upset hearing survivors' stories, we can do more' - Justice Minister on reforms to sentencing of sex offenders

Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan (Brian Lawless/PA)
Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan (Brian Lawless/PA)
Kathy Armstrong

Kathy Armstrong

A NEW committee will review the sentencing system for people convicted of sex offences but Justice Minister Charlie Flanagan has ruled out mandatory sentences.

The Justice Minister said he was "upset" hearing about the experiences of survivors of sexual abuse and said the Government can "do more" to help.

Speaking on Claire Byrne Live on RTE tonight, he said: "We can do more, I am very upset hearing the stories of these women for coming forward and speaking out, they're obviously still suffering so I'm sure it isn't easy for them.

"I'm sure we can move towards fixing this,a  lot of work has been done in recent times but we can do more.

"I'm not a fan of mandatory sentencing, it's been proven in the past that it hasn't achieved what it's been designed to do as a deterrant.

"I'm also aware that there is a division of power, I as minister have to ensure that nothing I do interferes with an independent judiciary but what we could do is have a greater level of consistency - judges who are well informed going into the circumstances of each individual case and looking into the spectrum."

He continued to say that he is in favour of establishing a committee that would help to advise parameters for sentencing.

Minister Flanagan said: "I'm bringing in a number of pieces of legislation, perhaps the most important of which is the Judicial Council Bill, which for the first time will involve statutory consideration of sentences - the type of sentences, the length of sentences and the specific and a specially designed sentencing information committee to inform the judges.

"This committee would include members of the judiciary and some lay members.

"They won't deal with individual cases, what we need to do is set out the parameters under which the law will prevail.

"I've spoken to the Attorney General about this and we cannot do anything that would interfere with the independence of judge.

"There has been mention of training for judges and I think it's important there is continuous professional development for judges, the chief justice has recognised that himself."

Minister Flanagan was speaking after two women raped by Keith Burke criticised the jail term he recieved.

In July 2017 he was found he was found guilty on 23 sample charges – including rape, sexual assault and buggery.

At his sentencing hearing last month he admitted raping three foster children at the home they shared between 2003 and 2007 – all three girls were under 10 years of age at the time, he was aged between 14 and 18. 

Burke (29) was sentenced to seven and a half years for the rape charges and concurrent terms of six and a half and five years for the remaining charges, the final year was suspended - one of his victims, 'Sarah' (not her real name) told Prime Time Investigates last week that she feels that justice has not been served.

"I was very angry, I thought I was fine but 6.5 years, 7.5 years with one year suspended, that’s nothing and what he put us through.

"I’m happy but it’ll always be there deep down like. I’ve tried to do counselling to talk about it, it just didn’t work out for me. I’ve really, really bad anger problems," 'Sarah' said.

  • If you have been affected by the content of this article, the National Rape Crisis Centre 24-hour helpline can be reached on 1800 77 88 88 or visit www.rapecrisishelp.ie

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