Supreme Court Decision on Sentencing in Rape Cases

RTE News reports that the Supreme Court this morning held that a life sentence can be imposed as a result of rape, even where the accused has pleaded guilty. On two levels this decision is particularly significant.

First of all it is significant in terms of the recognition of the seriousness of rape as a criminal offence and the sentence imposed as a result. The Central Criminal Court has frequently advocated apparently lenient sentences in rape cases in the past, thus the court’s decision to uphold the life sentence imposed on the appellants in this case is particularly noteworthy, although the court does appear to have stressed the particular nature of the circumstances in this case in reaching this decision. ). The appellants in this case had been found guilty of multiple charges of rape perpetrated against their children and, in one of the cases, against his nieces. According to the BBC, Kearns J. held that “[i]t is impossible to conceive of a greater breach of parental responsibility than occurred in these cases”.

On the second level the decision is important because of Kearns J.’s decision that a guilty plea does not necessarily result in a reduced sentence. The so called ‘guilty plea discount’ has long been an accepted element of sentencing policy and law, but has at the same time been subject to some fairly rigorous criticism. While Kearns J. – delivering a unanimous judgment of the Court – held that a guilty plea would be a mitigating factor, this did not necessarily mean that a guilty plea would save one from the maximum sentence (i.e. life imprisonment.

The judgment is not yet up on the Courts Service website.