Thursday, October 30, 2014

I HAVE spent long enough covering court cases over the years to understand that not everyone who appears before a judge on some criminal charge or other is a criminal. Yes, they may have broken the law in the strictest sense of the word, but not all of them are criminals.

By that I mean they do not possess a nasty streak. Nor are they prone to violence or believe they can do whatever they like, whenever they like and to whomever they like.

On Thursday, a woman died because of attitudes like that. She was innocently driving along a road when she was rear-ended by five criminals trying to flee the gardaí. In this instance, the use of the word criminal is justified, even though one of the perpetrators is understood to be as young as 13 years of age. Some might argue that this juvenile, who will probably get off with a slap on the wrist when the case against him is eventually brought to court, was coerced into accompanying the rest of the occupants of the car involved in this crash. If that is the case, then his parents should be held responsible.

Three of the occupants of the car are currently on bail for other crimes. Society had given them the benefit of the doubt and had granted them bail. But how did they repay that trust? … by going out and getting involved in a crime spree that ended in a high-speed chase, which led to the death of an innocent 43-year-old-woman returning home from the shops.

As I said earlier, not everyone who appears in court is a criminal, and some people are genuinely entitled to bail while a case against them is being prepared by the state.

However, time and time again, we read or hear about someone being assaulted, or worse, by a person currently out on bail. We hear of people involved in drink-driving cases while out on bail … the list is endless.

There have been many tragedies in the past, and unfortunately, it would appear we have learned nothing from these. Try explaining to the family of this deceased woman how someone with a known criminal record could be out on bail with the opportunity to commit such a crime. They won’t be able to understand, and can you blame them?

Currently, there is little or no incentive for the criminal to behave while on bail. The likelihood is he knows he will be facing a jail sentence for the crimes being investigated, so he thinks he has nothing to lose by letting rip in the meantime.

Sadly, it would appear that he is right. When caught, all he will do is plead to the extra charges and ask the court to take all matters into consideration when he appears before a judge – to start again with a clean slate, so to speak. Will he suffer a longer sentence? Probably not, as all additional charges will more than likely result in a prison sentence, which will run concurrently to the one being imposed by the court.

Like many other aspects of Irish life, we need serious reform with regard to our bail laws, otherwise, the woman who died in that horrific crash last Thursday night will not be the last.

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By Michael Godfrey
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