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.

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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.”