Friday 15 December 2017

Six out of 10 victims' families say killers get short sentences

Dearbhail McDonald Legal Editor

MORE than six out of 10 families of murder or manslaughter victims are unhappy at the sentences their loved one's killers receive.

A new survey of families of the victims of homicide (Advic) has also shown that nine out of 10 families are unhappy with Ireland's bail laws.

Some 63pc of the 71 families surveyed also want the introduction of minimum sentencing tariffs for all unlawful killings, including murder and man- slaughter.

Last week the Law Reform Commission said it believed that judges should be allowed to recommend minimum jail terms for murderers to serve before they are eligible for parole.

At present, judges cannot recommend minimum terms for murderers – it is up to the serving justice minister to decide when they should be released.

Advic has proposed a series of reforms to reflect the "emotional toll" placed on bereaved families, two-thirds of whom think homicide sentences are "excessively lenient" despite the fact that such sentences have increased dramatically, with the average "lifer" serving 17 years.

The Advic reforms include:

* Minimum sentencing for homicide.

* Abolition of concurrent (at the same time) sentencing.

* A ban on prisoners convicted of homicide being transferred to prison during their sentence.

* State-funded counselling for families affected by homicide.

Three-quarters of victims' families believe the State more often than not pursues charges of manslaughter over charges of murder when bringing a prosecution in order to achieve a conviction.

However, Advic special adviser John O'Keefe, who denied the reforms were about excessive punishment for offenders, said that there was no empirical evidence to support the belief that charges of murder were being "downgraded" by the authorities.

John Whelan, whose sister Sharon Whelan (30) and her two daughters, Zsara (7) and Nadia (2) were murdered by postman Brian Hennessy on Christmas Day 2008, said that he was "distressed" that the triple murderer would be eligible for parole after seven years.

Hennessy was originally given two consecutive life sentences and a third life sentence to run concurrently but appealed the decision to the Court of Criminal Appeal.

The court agreed to allow the two life sentences run concurrently.

"In one night, a third of our family was wiped out – that is not something you can come back from easily," said Mr Whelan.

Irish Independent

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