Ireland has experienced “practically none” of the types of murder cases that would warrant a whole-life sentence in the UK, according to a leading defence lawyer.
Dara Robinson, senior partner at Sheehan & Partners criminal law firm in Dublin was speaking amid renewed debate over Ireland’s sentencing laws for serious crimes.
It comes after London Metropolitan police officer Wayne Couzens was last week handed a whole-life tariff for the kidnap, rape and murder of Sarah Everard.
That led to calls for stricter sentencing in Ireland, with a rape survivor Debbie Cole telling Newstalk that when it comes to extreme crimes, life should mean life.
On Newstalk Breakfast this morning, Mr Robinson disagreed.
“The short answer to the question is, no I don’t believe that life should mean life in every case and in fact, as a matter of principle - and it opens a much greater debate - I am not convinced of the wisdom of a life sentence inevitably following a conviction for murder - for the reason that no two cases are the same,” he said.
He said the UK’s whole-life tariff can only be handed down in certain circumstances:
- A murder of two or more where each murder involves any of the following – premeditation or planning, abduction of victims or sexual or sadistic conduct
- Child murder, if involving the abduction of the child for sexual or sadistic motivation
- Murder for the purposes of advancing a political or religious idealistic cause
- Murder by an offender previously convicted of murder
- A combination of circumstances that make it an exceptionally serious case.
“We have practically none of those kinds of cases in Ireland,” he said.
“If you look at the kinds of cases people get convicted of murder for in Ireland, they tend to be – the highest single category in fact – cases of what are called domestic cases, which is invariably a partner, more often than not male, killing a female partner.
“That is invariably in a context of serious domestic violence, alcoholism, problematic relationships and so on and so forth.
“The Daniel Murtagh case was an exceptionally vicious type of that case. Other categories involve fights in pubs or fights over games of cards where a knife comes out and somebody gets stabbed – that doesn’t warrant a whole life in prison, if you are thinking about sending somebody to jail for punishment.”
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He said he does not believe introducing tougher sentences would ‘send out a signal’ and reduce domestic violence.
“The powerful signal has been sent out for a very long time, but it doesn’t stop domestic violence,” he said.
“Domestic violence is an all-too-common feature of life in Ireland. Alcohol has a huge amount to do with it and is almost always a factor.
“So, the signal is there and is being sent out and isn’t being listened to. That isn’t to say that in every relationship there is an element of violence because that clearly isn’t true, but in certain kinds of relationships there is domestic violence and that is what needs to be addressed and you don’t address it by imposing a whole life sentence on somebody who, as it turns out, kills their partner.”
The average amount of time spent in prison under a life sentence before release in Ireland is around 18 years; however, there are prisoners in who have served more than 30 years in custody.
New legislation that came into force in August means the minimum amount of time a life sentence prisoner must spend behind bars in Ireland is 12 years.
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If you have been affected by any of the issues discussed in this article, you can call Women’s’ Aid on 1800 341 900 or Men’s’ Aid on 01 5543811