Letter published in The Irish Times 11 February 2015
Dr Diarmuid Griffin’s research published in this newspaper yesterday offers a timely opportunity for the Government to take appropriate action to improve the integrity of our criminal justice system. A body which performs functions as important as the Parole Board – advising as to whether to release convicted killers and rapists – should be clearly defined and organised in our statute law.
Legislation to put the Parole Board on a statutory basis would have to provide carefully for the membership of the Board, the criteria that could be used for granting parole, the offences not covered by the parole process and the protections that would be afforded to the community should a decision be made to permit a prisoner back early into the community.
The Government’s failure to place the Parole Board on a statutory basis means that the important functions played by that Board are denied the force of law and merely constitute a form of advice provided by it to the Minister. This is particularly problematic since prisoners who believe they have an entitlement to parole can seek to avail of the Courts to achieve that entitlement. More fundamentally, there is something incoherent in having a member of the Cabinet and the Oireachtas making decisions in respect of matters that were initially decided upon by the judiciary. It is a practice that offends the principle of separation of powers that keeps politicians away from those functions which are the preserve of the courts.
The sentencing of convicted prisoners is an integral part of our criminal justice system. For victims of serious crime, it constitutes justice being done. The ad hoc basis upon which parole is granted in Ireland and the ultimate control of this system by a politician is an outdated way of operating this important aspect of our criminal justice system.
Cllr Jim O’Callaghan