Call to scrap cut in rapists' jail terms

Campaigners want closure of loophole by which abusers in Northern Ireland serve half sentence

Rapists and paedophiles should be excluded from a scheme introduced during Northern Ireland's Troubles that automatically cuts their sentences in half, say campaigners.

Sex offenders in the north of Ireland are still benefiting from a sentencing regime brought in after the 1981 hunger strike as a concession to paramilitary prisoners in the Maze but which applied to almost all inmates.

Now the Rape Crisis Centre in Belfast has been joined by a Labour MP in a campaign to end the anomaly that guarantees that abusers only serve half their sentence in Northern Irish jails. The sentencing regime means that sex offenders only have to behave as model prisoners. But they do not have to agree to any therapy as a condition of their early release.

Dave Anderson, Labour MP for Blaydon and a member of the Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee, has called for a parliamentary inquiry.

'There are already enough obstacles to reporting rape and sexual abuse without what appears to be this unfair policy.'

The MP pointed out that the Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee at Westminster has expressed concern about lenient sentencing policy in Northern Ireland.

The Rape Crisis Centre welcomed the MP's intervention on the issue. Eileen Calder, the centre's director, said: 'We have been raising this issue for years and it's very encouraging that finally this anomaly will be raised at Westminster. We have been crying out for a change in this law, which rewards the abuser and discourages victims from coming forward.'

Asked why an exception should be made for those guilty of sex crimes, Calder said: 'There are two good reasons why this part of the 50 per cent remission policy should be reviewed. The first is that unlike other prisoners rapists and paedophiles have the highest rates of recidivism. That is the case all over the world. If they are being freed without even the condition that they undertake therapy for example, then it means more convicted abusers on the streets early.

'The second reason for change is that rapists and paedophiles are in general model prisoners who more likely than other inmates to behave themselves in jail. They are among the most likely category of prisoners to benefit from the 50 per cent remission scheme.'

But human rights organisations, most notably the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, have warned that tinkering with the policy would open up the possibility of legal challenges under the Human Rights Act.

A spokeswoman said that the Northern Ireland Office has just held a public consultation into all sentencing policy in Northern Ireland. 'The outcome of that review will be published shortly and the NIO will be looking at the results.'


Henry McDonald, Ireland editor

The GuardianTramp

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