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Last Updated: Tuesday, 30 March, 2004, 19:23 GMT 20:23 UK
Row over 'lenient' remark
The Chief Constable has accused NI judges of being too lenient
A row has erupted after the chief constable criticised Northern Ireland's judges for being lenient in sentencing convicted paramilitaries.

Hugh Orde told the National Committee on American Foreign Policy in New York that courts in Northern Ireland were softer than those in Britain and in the Republic of Ireland.

But Northern Ireland's most senior judge has taken the rare step of issuing a statement rejecting the suggestion.

Mr Orde said on Monday he was determined to see those convicted of terrorist offences jailed.

"I don't mind how I lock these people up, but what I do care about is that I lock them up," he said.

However, he added: "It would be awfully helpful if the judges... could lock them up for slightly longer.

I have no hesitation in rejecting any suggestion that judges in this jurisdiction pass sentences that are inappropriate
Sir Brian Kerr
Lord Chief Justice

"We seem to have a problem, where sentences compared to London are lenient."

Mr Orde said that in the Republic of Ireland, the courts were even more hard line. There, they "throw away the key", he said.

As an example of the soft sentences in Northern Ireland, he explained that someone jailed for carrying a loaded gun could be released within one year.

On Tuesday evening, the Lord Chief Justice, Sir Brian Kerr, issued a statement refuting any suggestion that judges were "lenient in their approach to sentencing".

"I have no hesitation in rejecting any suggestion that judges in this jurisdiction pass sentences that are inappropriate," he said.

"Sentencing is a difficult and challenging exercise that requires careful consideration and experience.

"Any objective analysis of sentencing trends in Northern Ireland will reveal that it is carried out across the judicial tiers with conspicious care and skill."

He also pointed out that sentences conformed to well established principles.

Earlier, Ian Paisley junior of the DUP, who is a member of the Policing Board, said he supported the chief constable's comments.

"The fact that the chief constable is now speaking out on the matter indicates the seriousness of affairs," he said. "

"The government must indicate that they intend to press the courts to examine sentencing standards in light of the chief constable's comments and see to it that they improve."

Meanwhile, Mr Orde also said in his speech that it was essential that the ongoing political impasse in Northern Ireland was solved before the summer marching season.

Controversial killings

Lack of political progress could lead to violence on the streets, he said.

He encouraged Sinn Fein to take the "brave" step of joining the Northern Ireland Policing Board - although he could not envisage that happening within the next few months.

He also promised to cooperate with any inquiries the government might set up in light of the forthcoming report by retired Canadian judge Peter Cory.

Judge Cory has studied and reported on four controversial killings in Northern Ireland and subsequent allegations that British security services may be implicated.

"However, Mr Orde said he could not imagine the government establishing major public inquiries into the deaths - like the inquiry under Lord Saville currently examining Bloody Sunday - simply because of the cost.

BBC NI's Shane Glynn:
"Mr Orde said in the Irish Republic the courts were even more hardline"

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