DPP wins Supreme Court bid on maximum sentences for indecent assault

A six-judge court has overturned the Court of Appeal’s decision on maximum sentences for indecent assault, The Irish Times reports.

The Director of Public Prosecutions has won her Supreme Court bid to increase the maximum sentence available for any indecent assault carried out on males during the years 1981-1990.

The maximum sentence awarded for an indecent assault in this time was two years. The decision to change this has meant that the maximum sentence will now be increased to ten years.

Mr Justice Donal O’Donnell, in the court’s judgment, noted that for more than 100 years sentencing provisions in Ireland distinguished between indecent assaults on males and females until the law was changed to make the term “gender neutral”.

In 1861 a law provided a maximum sentence of 10 years for “sexual assault” offences on males, while a 1935 law held the maximum sentence for a sexual assault on a woman would be only 2 years.

Ms Justice Mary Laffoy held in the High Court 2007, that different penalties for indecent/sexual assaults on males and females “breached the constitutional guarantee of equality”.

The decision of 2007 was understood to mean, from the time the 1937 Constitution came into force until 1981 (which saw the maximum sentence for sexual assault on females rise to 10 years), the maximum sentence that could be imposed upon a male victim was two years imprisonment.

Indecent assault was renamed sexual assault and a maximum sentence of five years was introduced, resulting in the deliberation of the consequences of the 2007 decision for sentences for indecent assault between 1981 and 1990.

If the Court of Appeal decision was upheld, this could result in anyone who was convicted of a sexual assault on a female, could too be sentenced to only two years in jail, Judge O’Donnell said.

The decision of the High Court was made in order to limit the penalty to the maximum then available for sexual assault on a female at the relevant time, rather than limit the penalty for males.

This meant that for assaults between 1937 and 1981, the maximum penalty was two years, but thereafter the penalty increased to 10 years.

While this decision has implications for people charged with this offence between 1981 and 1990, it will not affect the sentences imposed on a hurling coach, now in his seventies, in whose case the maximum sentence issue was debated.

The court refused to alter the three year sentence imposed on a hurling coach who had admitted 19 offences of indecent assault on two boys., despite hearing the appeal of the DPP.

The DPP appealed that sentence as unduly lenient, the Court of Appeal found a maximum two-year sentence applied to indecent assault offences between 1981 and 1990, but imposed an additional one year term on the man after directing a reduced sentence of one year on one of the counts be served consecutively.

The Supreme Court found that the three-year sentence was not unduly lenient.

If the court found this sentence unduly lenient, that would mean he would be jailed on three different occasions for offences to which he pleaded guilty, Judge O’Donnell noted.

Such an outcome “is not what justice requires”.

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