A JUDGE in West Cork has warned that people are losing faith in the administration of justice because they are seeing seasoned criminals following the example of some public representatives in not paying court fines and being released from prison without any penalty.
Not mentioning any names, Judge James McNulty said some public representatives were setting a bad example for members of the public by refusing to pay fines upon conviction and then being brought to prison only to be released almost immediately – in effect, part of a ‘revolving door’ system.
‘Judges nationwide are growing weary of their sentences effectively being overruled by faceless, nameless officials who release people from prison just a day after they are convicted and sentenced in the courts,’ he said.
‘It is leading to a loss of confidence in the administration of justice by law abiding citizens who see criminals following the bad example of some our of public representatives, by refusing to pay fines, only to be brought to prison and then released almost immediately.’
Judge McNulty made his comments at Bandon District Court last week as he was about to impose a sentence on a young woman for stealing a €22 Yankee candle when he heard that she had previously been sentenced to 14 days in jail for another theft offence, but served only one day.
Sarah Waugh (23) from Coach Road, Dunmanway, who had pleaded guilty to the theft offence, told Judge McNulty that she had been brought to Limerick Prison after being given the 14 days sentence in 2014, but she was sent home that same day and never spent a night in the prison.
‘Lawful sentences imposed by judges under the Irish Constitution are being set at nought and overruled by officials either at prison or someone who promptly directs the release of prisoners,’ said Judge McNulty.
The whole issue had recently been highlighted and prompted much debate and some amusement on the national airwaves, but it was having a serious impact on the administration of justice in Ireland, he said.
Stressing that he was conscious of the separation of powers between the executive and the judiciary, he nonetheless felt that the issue must be addressed and there must be consequences for those who don’t pay fines if the public are to have confidence in the system.
It was widely believed that Judge McNulty was referring to the case of Dail deputies Mick Wallace and Clare Daly who were recently arrested but spent only a few hours in prison. The TDs were each fined €2,000 at Ennis District Court in April and given until the end of July to pay or serve a 30-day jail sentence for a security breach at Shannon Airport.
Speaking in Bandon last week, Judge McNulty said: ‘It’s indicative of why judges nationwide are imposing so many suspended sentences – I am sure there are many people out there who wonder why there are so many suspended sentences – the reason is because actual sentences are not being served.’
Defence solicitor Diarmuid O’Shea pleaded leniency for his client, pointing out that Waugh had paid compensation for the theft of the candle from the Homefront Store at the Riverview Shopping Centre in Bandon on September 19th.
Judge McNulty imposed a 30-day sentence on Waugh but suspended it on condition that she keep the peace and be of good behaviour for a period of two years and he warned her if she re-offends, the option of a suspended sentence will not be available to her again.