Sunday 16 December 2018

Judiciary attacked for 'lenient' Humphries sentence

Stock photo
Stock photo
Kevin Doyle

Kevin Doyle

The sentence handed down to child abuser Tom Humphries has "brought the judiciary into disrepute," the Dáil has been told.

While she did not name Humphries in her contribution, Sinn Féin's Mary Lou McDonald described how he had "bombarded" his victim with thousands of text messages.

"The leniency of the sentence handed down in a high-profile sexual offences case earlier this week has, rightfully, disgusted and angered people," she said.

Humphries, a former 'Irish Times' sports journalist, was given a two-and-a-half year jail term earlier this week for abusing a 16-year-old girl.

The 54-year-old had daily contact with the teenager over four months, exchanging 16,000 text messages.

Ms McDonald said the sentencing regime in our courts "infuriates not just victims and their families but the general public".

"There is a real problem with the sentences handed down to perpetrators of rape and sexual abuse, in particular, and we must face up to that. Inconsistency, leniency and light sentences are common practice," she said.

Despite being repeatedly warned to speak in general terms as Dáil rules forbid TDs from commenting on individual judgments, Ms McDonald said: "The House should make no mistake. A recent high-profile case has brought the judiciary into disrepute."

She asked Tánaiste Frances Fitzgerald to consider introducing a 'sentencing council' which would set out guidelines for judges.

Ms Fitzgerald was cautious not to reference the Humphries case in her reply, but did say: "There is a long history in this country and, indeed, elsewhere of difficulty in securing convictions in respect of sexual offences.

"There is also a long history here and elsewhere of a belief that the sentencing does not reflect the seriousness of the crime."

The Tánaiste said there needs to be a "sea change in attitudes to victims across the criminal justice system".

However, she did not agree with the need for a sentencing council, saying previous studies had found that the judiciary is best placed to devise guidelines for sentencing rather than an outside body.

"Our criminal law is now very strong in relation to sanctions and particular penalties which judges can enforce.

"But in each particular case it is up to the judiciary," she added.

Irish Independent

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