Principles on sentencing

The guidelines which judges must follows in sentencing persons convicted of manslaughter were laid down clearly in the judgment of the Court of Criminal Appeal on 5 July 2004 in a case DPP v Stephen Kelly. Relying on previous Supreme Court judgments, the court held that in deciding on what the appropriate sentence should be in a manslaughter case, the judge should first look at the range of penalties applicable to the offence and locate the appropriate penalty, given the circumstances of the crime in question. Then the judge should take into account mitigating factors.

The Court quoted from a text book on sentencing by the NUI Galway academic, Thomas O'Malley, in which he stated that of those imprisoned for manslaughter in 1993 and 1994 half got five years or less and half got between five and ten years.

The Court itself looked at sentencing practice over the previous several years (that was prior to 2004). Of 50 cases, 13 sentences were in excess of 10 years and 14 were between five and ten years and 24 were under five years. In six cases the sentences were wholly suspended (in other words, the convicted person served no time in prison).

The Supreme Court in a previous case had said: "Sentencing is neither an exercise in vengeance, nor the retaliation by victims on a defendant... The nature of the crime and the personal circumstances of the (convicted person) are the kernel issues to be considered and applied in accordance with the principles of sentencing, for this is an action between the State and the (convicted person) and not an action between (the convicted person) and the victims".

Vincent Browne