A judge has said that there is a ‘yawning gap’ in provisions for sentencing juveniles convicted of serious offences.
In the Central Criminal Court, Mr Justice Tony Hunt adjourned the sentencing of a 17-year-old boy until 22 February, for the murder of Urantsetseg Tserendorj in Dublin.
The judge pointed out that the Children Act has no provisions to deal with children convicted of such serious offences.
Mandatory sentence lacuna
49-year-old Tserendor, who was a mother-of-two, was walking home from her cleaning job when she was stabbed in the neck in Dublin's north inner city on 20 January 2020. She died nine days later. The perpetrator was 14 at the time.
A guilty plea for manslaughter was entered – the teen said that his intention had been to steal from the woman, but a jury convicted him of murder.
Because the perpetrator is still under 18, the mandatory sentence of life in prison does not apply.
The judge wanted to hand down a life sentence, but agreed to a request from defence counsel, Michael O'Higgins SC, to adjourn the sentence to allow for a response from the Oireachtas.
Gaps in legislation
Recent cases had exposed gaps in the legislation, the judge said, and were too significant and too difficult to be left with opaque and ad hoc guidance.
He added that the process of reviewing a child's sentence after a number of years was not fit for purpose and a judge cannot suspend any portion of the sentence or impose conditions.
Legislative reform was needed and if this was not forthcoming, the Supreme Court would have to consider the matter and advise on the correct procedures, he said.
Judge Hunt paid tribute to Mrs Tserendorj and said that he hoped her husband and children would get State assistance in relation to financial support and Irish citizenship in the wake of her murder.
Justice Department examination
Minister for Justice Simon Harris has issued a statement saying his department is looking at the gap in the relevant legislation.
If changes are necessary in the sentencing of children in the courts, they will be brought forward, he added.
Simon Harris says he appreciates the distress any delay is causing the victim's family, and expressed his condolences.