'Criminals laughing at short jail terms'

A judge warned that communities are living in total fear because of a flood of burglaries, with hardened criminals now "laughing" at lenient Circuit Court sentences.

Retired Judge Michael Patwell described Justice Minister Frances Fitzgerald's new crackdown on burglaries as "political window-dressing". He also said he was "appalled" at the manner in which some Circuit Court judges were over-using sentence suspensions.

Ms Fitzgerald plans to toughen sentences, particularly at District Court level, through consecutive sentences as well as giving judges greater powers to refuse bail. The measures came after an alarming 15pc hike in burglaries in the Dublin area.

Judge Patwell warned the situation is now so bad that criminals are winning the battle against forces of law and order.



"There are people walking out of court, particularly the circuit court, laughing because (of suspended sentences)," he said. "I think some judges are overdoing this suspending lark. I call it a lark, because that is exactly what it is.

"Walk down any Irish country town, and houses are bristling with burglar alarms and CCTV security cameras and electronic gates. People are living in absolute fear. What you should do is toughen up the sentencing policy."

The former Cork-based District Court judge said a key problem is that there is insufficient capacity in Irish prisons: "The fact is that, even if Circuit Court judges got tougher, there aren't enough prison spaces to deal with these people."