Victim groups call for urgent review of sex crime penalties
THE Government is coming under intense pressure to review sentencing amid continuing controversy over jail terms given to sex offenders.
Victims' rights groups have again raised concerns about sentencing following a decision that allowed a sex attacker to avoid jail on a number of conditions, including that he paid €15,000 to his 17-year-old victim.
Last night Justice Minister Alan Shatter said he was committed to reviewing sentencing.
But quick action remains unlikely as Mr Shatter says he must wait for a Law Reform Commission re-view, which could take some months to complete, before making a decision.
Mr Shatter was pressed on the issue after Graham Griffiths (29), of Annagassan, Co Louth, received a four-year suspended sentence after pleading guilty at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court to sexually assaulting the girl on April 17, 2011.
Judge Martin Nolan suspended the sentence on conditions including that Griffiths pay his victim €15,000 within one year "to bring home the seriousness of what he has done".
Rape crisis networks and sexual abuse support groups criticised the decision, saying it sent out the wrong message.
Earlier this year, the Law Reform Commission, which is finalising a report on mandatory sentencing, suggested that the proposed Judicial Council should also develop sentencing guidelines.
The chief executive of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre said the public had been "very upset" by this week's court decision.
"It doesn't give a good message in terms of justice," said Ellen O'Malley-Dunlop. "It means if you can pay up you can avoid a custodial sentence."
One In Four's Maeve Lewis said the latest case raised the question of whether there was one law for the rich and another for the poor.
"We have been calling for years for consistency in sentencing for sex offences and for judges to educate themselves about the impact of sexual violence on victims," she said.
Fianna Fail justice spokes-man Niall Collins said he would bring forward proposals calling for a formal set of sentencing guidelines for judges.
Sinn Fein urged Mr Shatter to immediately prepare legislation on sentencing guidelines.
The party's justice spokes-man Padraig Mac Lochlainn said there was widespread concern that some perpetrators of serious crime could pay their way out of a jail sentence, and this was a dangerous direction for the justice system to take.