The chart below (click on it to expand) was included in European judicial systems / Efficiency and quality of justice, Edition 2010 (data 2008) published by the European Commission for the Efficiency of Justice (CEPEJ).  See page 210 if it is difficult to read here.  Thanks to Namawinelake for bringing it to my attention via Twitter.  Irish judges’ pay is ridiculously out of line, even before their stupendous pension arrangements are taken into account, and even after the voluntary pay cuts since 2008.

It makes it hard to have any sympathy for those poor souls who are suffering so much, at least according to the Irish Independent this week in this article.

Consider two cases heard by the Irish courts, the first very recently, the second a few months ago.

Exhibit A:

A FORMER Fás assistant manager who defrauded the agency of more than €600,000 over five years has been given a four-year sentence.

Exhibit B:

A Louth woman who defrauded her employer of €475,000 over a three-year period has been given a six-year suspended sentence at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court.   Lorraine Gregory (37), used the €475,000 in forged company cheques to buy a house and fund the purchase of other luxury items such as an Audi A4 car and a foreign holiday.

So Mr X goes to jail for 4 years, while Ms Y walks free.  The above outcomes are not unusual.  If you are looking for consistency, it is hard to find in the sentencing policies of Irish judges.  Or….. can it be the case that women are routinely receiving less punitive sentences than men?  In fact, I suspect there is a definite correlation between length of sentence and gender of the criminal.  This would make an interesting doctoral thesis for somebody.

I saw this headline a few days ago. Finally, I thought, some sign of life from the various criminal inquiries related to Irish banking scandals.   At last, we would see a degree of accountability and justice!

Alas, ’twas not to be.  Disappointingly, it was about two UK property tycoons being arrested in London as part of a fraud investigation into a failed Icelandic bank.

Here in Ireland, we struggle to achieve a level of accountability which is taken for granted even in Nigeria.  I don’t care how many enquiries we have under way, or how thorough they are, if they cannot move forward at a reasonable pace then they are simply a waste of time and money, while generating justifiable cynicism.

Once more, one is inclined to question what exactly one has to do in Ireland for the courts to consider that a jail sentence is warranted.  According to the Irish Times last Saturday,

A Louth woman who defrauded her employer of €475,000 over a three-year period has been given a six-year suspended sentence at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court.   Lorraine Gregory (37), used the €475,000 in forged company cheques to buy a house and fund the purchase of other luxury items such as an Audi A4 car and a foreign holiday.  The court heard the defrauded company has since stopped trading after years of operating successfully.  Gregory …. pleaded guilty to 23 sample charges of theft and forgery on dates unknown between August 2001 and March 2004 …..

No wonder Ms Gregory appears to be laughing in the photograph published alongside the article.

Lots of questions arise:

  • would she have been jailed if she stole a higher amount, say €1 million?  (Where exactly is the cut-off point for a custodial sentence?)
  • would a man have been jailed in a similar case?
  • is it any wonder we have so few people in jail?  See this post. (England and Wales have proportionately twice as many people in jail.)
  • is it any wonder that there is a culture of impunity towards white-collar crime in Ireland?

I have commented on this issue more than once before, so there is a real danger I will be thought a crank.   It’s a risk I am prepared to take.  To repeat myself : “I’m sure there is an argument that the convicted parties will probably not re-offend.  I’m equally sure that unless people are occasionally put in jail for fraud and theft, more people will be tempted to take a chance on perpetrating such crimes.  These are not victimless crimes: they affect us all by increasing the operating costs of businesses and by costing the Exchequer (ie taxpayers) millions in enforcement costs.”

Two separate, but similar, stories appeared on the same page of the Irish Times recently.

Financial controller given suspended sentence.  An Australian woman who defrauded her lover’s company of €77,000 after she was appointed as financial controller has been given a suspended sentence at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court”

Suspended term for two over fraud.  Two sisters who fraudulently claimed more than €55,000 in social welfare over a number of years have each received suspended sentences at Dublin Circuit Criminal Court.” 

These are two clear-cut examples of large-scale fraud, pursued at great expense by the authorities and resulting in successful prosecutions.  And yet the judges, respectively Judge Tony Hunt and Judge Delahunt, let the fraudsters walk free from the court in both cases.

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Not surprisingly, media comment has focused on the somewhat surprising and Jesuitical findings of Bill Shipsey in his report on the Fyffes insider trading scandal.  I can’t really add anything useful on the substantive issues, but I am puzzled that nobody has raised the question of why Mr Shipsey took 18 months to produce his report.  Have we all become so used to the laughably slow pace exemplified by the Moriarty and other tribunals that we think that 18 months isn’t so bad?

This was an investigation with  relatively narrow terms of reference.  So allow say a month to meet and interview people, another 2 months (at most) to collate and review the results, a month to write up draft findings, a month to allow relevant people to see those draft findings, and another month to process their responses.  Say 6 months at the outside.  What was he doing for the other year?

Can anybody help me on this?  Was the slow pace deliberate?  Were interviewees uncooperative? Was Mr Shipsey slacking off?   I would like to know.

The suggestion by Mr Justice Richard Johnson (the former president of the High Court) that the reintroduction of the death penalty might be “looked at” has received a frosty reception in general.

Many commentators highlighted Ireland’s international legal obligations – as a member of the European Union and the Council of Europe – to keep the death penalty off its statute book.

And of course the other great argument against the death penalty is that judicial mistakes (think of the Birmingham Six) cannot be corrected.

However the argument that I find the most convincing arose when I was challenged to do a very simple “thought experiment”  along the following lines:

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Two related news pieces….

Firstly, according to the Irish Times this morning, the number of prisoners in Irish jails has passed 4,000 for the first time in the history of the State, based on new Irish Prison Services figures.

Secondly, a “career criminal” who preyed on elderly people alone in their homes has been given an eight-year jail sentence, according to The Irish Independent  (13th October 2009).   Alice Connors (36) apparently had 86 (yes, 86) previous convictions — including 22 burglaries  — with victims aged from 60 to 84 years.  One is tempted to ask why somebody who has racked up so many convictions by the age of 36 was still at large.

 These reports set me thinking again about an issue that has always intrigued me. 

According to the World Prison Population List, for every 100,000 of population, Ireland in December 2008 had 76 people in prison (although presumably it is a bit higher today).  This compares with twice this number (153)  in England and Wales and no less than 756 in the United States.  These differences are dramatic.  But what causes them?

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