McGlone calls for Independent Sentencing Guidelines Council

MID-ULSTER MLA Patsy McGlone has called for the establishment of an independent Sentencing Guidelines Council following prison terms handed down to Constable Stephen Carroll’s killers.

The SDLP Assemblyman said that unless such a body was set up, public confidence in the judicial system would suffer.

Mr McGlone made his comments following an Assembly debate on the issue, which called for a review of sentences handed down to those convicted of murdering PSNI officers.

It was sparked by the convictions of 41 year-old Brendan McConville and 21 year-old John Paul Wootton for their part in the murder of PSNI Constable Stephen Carroll in March 2009.

McConville must serve a minimum 25 years and John Paul Wootton, a minimum of 14 years.

Their sentences received widespread criticism because of the difference in sentencing laws here, compared to England, where a police officer’s killers can receive 30 years.

The SDLP last week tabled an amendment to the Assembly motion calling “for the establishment of an independent sentencing guidelines council for Northern Ireland”, but it was defeated in the chamber.

Speaking afterwards Mr McGlone said, “The Hillsborough agreement in 2010 contained a commitment to establish a sentencing guidelines council.

“The establishment of a clearly independent sentencing guidelines mechanism would be the best way to achieve the high level of public confidence in our courts system that we all want to see.

“It was clear from the public reaction and that of the Director of Public Prosecutions and the trial judge, Lord Justice Girvan, to the sentencing of those responsible for the murder of Constable Stephen Carroll, that the current guidelines require reconsideration.

Mr McGlone continued: “The Justice Minister has proposed the inclusion of two lay members on the judicial sentencing group established by the Lord Chief Justice, to be appointed through a public appointments process.

“One of those lay members will represent victims. But that does not go far enough towards establishing an independent sentencing guidelines mechanism.”

“Sentencing bodies across the world can and do carry out a range of functions, including drafting guidelines, public education, disseminating information and resource management.

“When the Department of Justice consulted on the options for a sentencing guidelines mechanism, an independent sentencing guidelines council was clearly the preferred option among many respondents, yet it has not materialised.

“Instead the Minister appears to be tinkering with the notion of the judicial sentencing group.”

The SDLP MLA said that although there would be a cost to maintaining such a council, however the “long-term cost of failing to address a lack of public confidence in the court” will inevitably be much higher.

He concluded: “Establishing an independent sentencing guidelines council, as set out in the Hillsborough agreement of 2010, would be the best way to review individual sentencing issues and ensure that a robust and independent sentencing guidelines mechanism exists that can secure and improve public confidence in our judicial system.”