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Last Updated: Monday, 28 June, 2004, 19:49 GMT 20:49 UK
Judges 'responsive to concerns'
Sir Brian said judges
Sir Brian said judges "are not oblivious to such criticism"
Disquiet over the length of time prisoners serve as life sentences is of profound concern to the judiciary, the
Lord Chief Justice has said.

Sir Brian Kerr said he had to be "responsive to concerns" about how judges perform their work.

Northern Ireland's most senior judge was speaking during an address to newly-qualified solicitors at the Royal Courts of Justice in Belfast on Monday.

Anger has been expressed recently over some sentences in a number of cases.

Sir Brian referred to media publicity about sentences handed down by the courts, but refused to discuss individual cases.

He said judges "are not oblivious to such criticism".

What the judge who fixes the tariff is doing is to decide the period that must elapse before the release of the prisoner can be considered
Sir Brian Kerr
Lord Chief Justice

He added: "Furthermore, judges do not lay claim to infallibility in these matters. But it should be clearly understood also that when we get things wrong there are mechanisms for correcting them.

"It should also be appreciated that the maximum sentence for statutory offences is prescribed in legislation and is not fixed by the judiciary."

Sir Brian said the most important message he wished to convey was that when a judge fixed the tariff for life sentence cases, they were not setting the prisoner's release date.

"What the judge who fixes the tariff is doing is to decide the period that must elapse before the release of the prisoner can be considered.

The Chief Constable accused NI judges of being too lenient
"Release will only follow if the Life Sentence Review Commissioners, and ultimately the secretary of state, consider that the prisoner is suitable for release."

He said if a sentence was unduly lenient, the attorney general could refer it to the Appeal Court.

In March, Sir Brian rejected a suggestion by Chief Constable Hugh Orde that Northern Ireland's judges were 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.

However, the Lord Chief Justice issued a statement in which he said he had "no hesitation in rejecting any suggestion that judges in this jurisdiction pass sentences that are inappropriate".

Row over 'lenient' remark
30 Mar 04  |  Northern Ireland
NI's top judge takes up post
12 Jan 04  |  Northern Ireland

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