Lady Chief Justice ‘provided guidance’ to judge after sexual assault trial backlash
The Lady Chief Justice of Northern Ireland has said she “provided advice and guidance” to a Tyrone judge after his comments while sentencing a man for sexual assault “caused legitimate concern”.
Judge Brian Sherrard KC, sitting in Dungannon Crown Court, had told the 36-year-old defendant he was “still young” and his punishment would not stop him “finding a wife or partner, getting a family and a home”.
The man, who the court heard had 67 previous offences including some relating to domestic abuse, was sentenced to four-and-a-half years’ imprisonment and made subject to a sexual offences prevention order for a seven-year period.
Sinn Féin MLA Linda Dillon subsequently submitted a formal complaint about the judge to the Lady Chief Justice, Dame Siobhan Keegan.
Explaining her decision, Ms Dillon said: “The comments, encouraging the defendant to go out and ‘find a wife or partner and get a family and a home together’ and the refusal to ban him from contacting women online are simply astonishing.
“Especially when the defendant has so many previous offences, and there has been an acknowledgement of a recent escalation in his offending.”
A response from Northern Ireland’s top judicial office-holder, shared by her office with Irish Legal News, acknowledges the controversy and commits to providing more training for judges in issues of sexual and domestic violence.
Dame Siobhan said: “I am aware of the concerns about the comments made by His Honour Judge Sherrard when sentencing a defendant at Dungannon Crown Court on Friday 7th October. I acknowledge that these comments have caused legitimate concern.
“I have considered the full transcript of the judge’s sentencing remarks and I have spoken to him. Following from this, I have provided advice and guidance to the judge in relation to these matters.
“In light of the importance of this issue generally I have also arranged for further guidance and training for all the judiciary, to address these concerns.”