Thursday, 11 July 2019
Parole Bill 2016: Committee and Remaining Stages
I thank colleagues who have spoken in support of my proposition. To clarify, what I favour is more wholesale reform of sentencing for murder. As Senator Conway is well aware, we do not have the concept of first or second degree murder in our law. Anyone convicted of murder, regardless of the context, receives a mandatory life sentence. That is what I would like to see us change. I accept that it is not possible to do so in the Bill before us, but we should move towards a system where judges would have discretion in sentencing for murder, subject to a maximum sentence of life imprisonment, in the same way as they do in sentencing for manslaughter or rape.
I cannot support Senator Marie-Louise O'Donnell's amendment because it would mean that a judge in sentencing a person within the current system, under which there is a mandatory indeterminate life sentence for murder, would be empowered to prescribe a minimum period of custody during which a person would not be eligible for parole. That would lengthen the time persons would serve prior to being eligible for parole and could amount to a double punishment where somebody had been sentenced to what was an indeterminate term of life imprisonment. Within the framework envisaged by the Bill, a person would be eligible for parole after 12 years, but there would be an additional layer, if the amendment were to be passed, whereby they would not be eligible for parole until another term had been served. I do not see that as a sensible or reasonable approach to take to sentencing within the current system. That is the reason I oppose it. As I said, I am opposed generally to the concept of mandatory minimum sentencing. It is better to set maximums in sentencing legislation and allow tructured discretion in sentencing guidelines for judges.The average life sentence served in Ireland is 18 years but there are quite a number of people serving life sentences who have been in prison for more than 20 years. According to the Irish Prison Service in 2017, two persons have served over 40 years. We should be clear that it is extremely rare, if ever, that anyone will get out at seven or 12 years and that life sentences are longer in our system.