Saturday, November 18, 2017

Tom Humphries and Judge Karen O'Connor: Too Light a Sentence?

Tom Humphries

Judge Karen O'Connor

The funny thing about outbreaks of hysteria is how quickly they come to an end.  It's not really a positive factor however - more like a breathing space so that the media can prepare itself to launch the next one. It now looks like David Walsh is NOT going to lose his job with the Sunday Times for giving a character reference to the court. It may not be a CRIMINAL offence for his employer to fire him.

HOWEVER I suspect that an employer who did so in such circumstances, could be sued and the employee might well be awarded exemplary and punitive damages.

The OTHER issue that seems to have run out of steam is the denunciation of the judge for giving what was described as too light a sentence. There were several articles by journalists suggesting that the Director of Public Prosecutions Claire Loftus was likely to appeal the sentence and demand a tougher one.  However even at the height of the hysteria Shane Phelan wrote in the Irish Independent that "opinion is divided in legal circles as to whether such an appeal would lead to a different outcome". 

TRANSLATION: There isn't a hope in hell that an appeal by the DPP would result in an increased sentence. However if the media were still denouncing Judge Karen O'Connor, my guess is that the DPP would go ahead anyway just to appease the mob!

Barrister Tom O'Malley, who is senior law lecturer at NUI Galway had a detailed article in the Irish Independent on 28 October entitled "Why the Judge in the Humphries Case Got It Right"

The key parts of Tom O'Malley's article are here:

...The maximum sentence for the defilement offences to which Tom Humphries pleaded guilty was five years imprisonment. The judge clearly ranked these offences high in the scale of gravity because she set the headline sentence at four years for each (an element of her decision that has been largely ignored in media comment). Having given due credit for mitigating factors, notably the guilty plea, his medical condition and remorse, she arrived at a final sentence of two and a half years. ......

The statement made by Judge O'Connor when sentencing Mr. Humphries shows that she approached the case with great care. She took account of the aggravating as well as the mitigating factors (as reflected in the fact that she adopted a headline sentence close to the maximum for the defilement offences) and noted that he had not entered a guilty plea until a relatively late stage. She dealt in detail with the impact on the victim and in saying that one might have some sympathy for the offender's present situation, she stressed that this was not to be interpreted  as condoning in any way his criminal conduct.....

I predict that the sentence will stand. At this stage the DPP will probably not even try to appeal it, because the media and the mob have moved on to other things!

Tom O'Malley is a Senior Lecturer in Law in NUI Galway, a member of the Irish Law Reform Commission and a practising barrister specialising in judicial review


  1. Well who would have thought it? Article by Shane Phelan in the Irish Independent on 22 November headed "DPP Opts Not To Challenge Length of Humphries Prison Sentence" with subheading "Rape Crisis Centre Re-Iterates Concern over 'Leniency' of Two-and-a-half-year Term".

    Was it not the Rape Crisis Centre that objected to a term of four MONTHS imposed by a Cyprus court in 1997 on an Irish tourist who falsely accused 3 Irish men of raping her?

    1. I think it was also they who welcomed Nora Wall's life sentence.

    2. Yes indeed. As per the Wikipedia article on Nora Wall:
      The director of the Dublin Rape Crisis Centre, Olive Braiden, welcomed the imposition of a maximum sentence, and said it would ensure that Nora Wall would be monitored for the rest of her life to prevent recurrence.
      Olive Braiden said nothing when the case against Nora Wall and Pablo McCabe collapsed. By any chance was she disappointed when the truth came out?