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Ireland: New Minimum Sentences for Certain Drug Offenses

(Feb. 2, 2008) The Government of Ireland has passed legislation creating stiff new penalties for drug trafficking. Under the new law, persons convicted of dealing in drugs having a value in excess of €13,000 (approximately US$19,240) must be sentenced to at least ten years' imprisonment, except in certain special cases, and they may be sentenced to up to life imprisonment for their crime. In what it terms a "construction clause," the legislation directs the courts to impose at least the minimum sentence in view of the harm caused to society by drug trafficking "unless the court determines that by reason of exceptional and specific circumstances relating to the offence, or the person convicted of the offence, it would be unjust in all the circumstances to do so." This provision does not apply to persons under the age of 18. In considering whether there are exceptional circumstances justifying a lesser sentence in other cases, the courts may consider whether the accused pleaded guilty to the offense and whether the accused "materially assisted in the investigation of the offence." (Criminal Justice Act, 2007, (Act. No. 29/2007 (Ir.)), available at http://www.ucc.ie/law/irlii/legislation/statdisp.php?yr=2007 (unofficial source, last visited Feb. 2, 2007).)

The enactment of the Criminal Justice Act, 2007 has been controversial in Ireland. As early as March 2007, The IRISH EXAMINER reported that some experts thought the attempt to remove or severely limit judicial discretion was unconstitutional. (Drug Law Plan 'May Be Unconstitutional,' IRISH EXAMINER, Mar. 14, 2007, available at http://archives.tcm.ie/irishexaminer/2007/03/14/story27750.asp.) More recently, the same publication carried an article entitled Law Bodies Express Concern on "Rushed" Criminal Justice Act (IRISH EXAMINER, Oct. 12, 2007, available at http://www.irishexaminer.com/breaking/index.aspx?c=ireland&jp=mhmhkfqlidoj). Concerns have been expressed by the Irish Human Rights Commission and the Law Society of Ireland that the legislation was rushed through the Oireachtas (Ireland's parliament) for political reasons.