Irish face call for life sentence shake-up

Ireland's independent Law Reform Commission has embarrassed Irish government and opposition politicians by calling for an end to mandatory life sentences for murderers and a complete scrapping of minimum sentences.

Its recommendations, contained in a report, would mean an end to the current 40-year term for capital murder of a

police officer, although they are unlikely to be passed.

In an echo of the UK debate between Home Secretary Michael Howard and the judiciary, the five-member commission – made up of two judges, a barrister and two academics – recommends that minimum sentences for indictable offences should be abolished and warns that deterrence of crime should not be a factor in determining the severity of sentence.

Sentencing policy, the commission's report states, should not be determined by what Lord Hailsham described as “the hairy heel of populism” and it calls for a comprehensive review of sentencing law.

The growing support for mandatory or minimum sentencing, particularly in cases of rape and sexual abuse, is fuelled by distrust of judges, whose sentencing practice “is perceived to be preoccupied by mitigating factors”. But the report warns mandatory sentencing “is a blunt instrument which should not be tolerated in any sentencing scheme with the slightest sensitivity to a 'just deserts' approach”.

Irish Justice Minister Nora Owen said there were “very cogent arguments” for maintaining the mandatory life sentence for murder, a point enthusiastically endorsed by the opposition.

Irish Post