Concurrent Sentencing

3.1       Background

  • The punishment of multiple offenders – those who must be sentenced for several offences at the same time – has historically presented Irish courts with one of the most intractable problems.
  • The court’s dilemma has been whether to impose concurrent or consecutive sentences, or a combination of the two.
  • The traditional “text book” approach towards sentencing multiple offenders has become known as the “one transaction rule” which says if offences arise from the same incident then they should attract concurrent sentences but if they arise from different incidents, they should not.

3.2      The Reality

3.2.1    There is therefore NO statutory requirement to impose consecutive sentences in any circumstances (defined or otherwise). A Judge has total discretion.

3.2.2    The Judiciary strongly favour concurrent sentencing. The logic is that that if a person is to be given several consecutive sentences then the final figure will be too high and this will be “unfair” to the convicted person. Concurrent sentencing therefore restores “fairness.”

  • Case law has stated that it would be exceptional to impose consecutive sentences when the offences closely resembled one another and happened within a reasonably short timescale.
  • There is therefore a legal presumption in Irish law of concurrency.

3.3      Are concurrent sentences ever fair?

3.3.4    AdVIC does not believe so. There are four well-established purposes of sentencing none of which are satisfied if concurrent sentencing is the rule, rather than the exception.

  • Retribution: No sense of retribution is evident when sentences run concurrently. Each homicide becomes diluted and merged into one overall crime thus diminishing each individual homicide.
  • Deterrence: Why commit one crime when you can commit five and get the same sentence? Concurrent sentencing is a criminal’s charter. It has zero deterrence.
  • Denunciation: No societal denunciation is attached to concurrent as opposed to consecutive sentencing. In reality the crime is applauded and the others disregarded.
  • Incapacitation: Five murders do not in reality mean five life sentences but one. The murderer is only incapacitated for the duration of one of those offences – the other four lives are discounted.
  • Rehabilitation: Rehabilitation is an aspect of sentencing and not one that AdVIC dismisses. However there can be no rehabilitation without firstly justice being done and seen to be done. Concurrency can rarely be a bedfellow of justice.

3.4 Proposals

3.4.1    AdVIC proposes a root and branch review/debate of sentencing practices as they relate to concurrent and consecutive sentencing. This review must apply across all courts and for all Judges both at trial and appeal.

3.4.2    We propose a national conversation on same culminating in a Bill coming before Dail Eireann, which will ensure that consecutive sentencing for multiple offenders will operate on a statutory basis. Consecutive sentencing must now be written as a presu][mption into law.

  • AdVIC therefore calls for Judges discretion on concurrent sentencing to be therefore removed with regard to homicides whether GC/NGC. Only with regard to lesser offences should judicial discretion remain re concurrency and even then, on a limited basis only.
  • AdVIC proposes nothing more than fairness for offender, victims and their families alike. Legislative intervention with regard to consecutive sentencing will achieve a recalibration of justice in Ireland for all those affected by heinous crimes and for Irish society as a whole.

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