Tom Humphries:

Sug­ges­tion judge was not sym­pa­thetic to the vic­tim in the case is ‘plainly wrong’ Ex­cep­tion­ally tough sen­tence would be suc­cess­fully chal­lenged, says bar­ris­ter

The Irish Times - - Front Page - CONOR GAL­LAGHER

Le­gal fig­ures have def ended the judge over the sen­tence given to the for­mer sports jour­nal­ist:

Mem­bers of the ju­di­ciary and bar are “ex­tremely un­happy” with pub­lic crit­i­cism of the judge who sen­tenced for­mer Ir­ish Times sports jour­nal­ist Tom Humphries for child sex of­fences.

Humphries (54) was jailed for 2½ years last week by Judge Karen O’Con­nor for en­gag­ing in sex­ual acts with a teenage girl and groom­ing her over a three-year pe­riod.

Groups work­ing with vic­tims of rape and sex­ual abuse crit­i­cised the sen­tence for be­ing too le­nient and ar­gued that sen­tenc­ing guide­lines must be in­tro­duced for judges.

In the Dáil, Sinn Féin TD Mary Lou McDon­ald said the sen­tenc­ing “has brought the ju­di­ciary into dis­re­pute” and “the pub­lic doesn’t trust the ju­di­cial sys­tem to de­liver pun­ish­ments” in sex­ual abuse cases.

A Cir­cuit Crim­i­nal Court judge said on Mon­day that this was “a dis­grace­ful slur on the ju­di­ciary but more par­tic­u­larly on Judge O’Con­nor, who is ex­tremely highly re­garded in terms of vic­tim em­pa­thy. It has left many here ex­tremely dis­ap­pointed and un­happy, I have to say.”

Con­dem­na­tion

The judge said any crit­i­cism should be di­rected at mem­bers of the Oireach­tas, as “they are the ones who set the tar­iffs”.

He also crit­i­cised press cov­er­age of the case, in­clud­ing cov­er­age in this news­pa­per, which he said placed too much fo­cus on the judge’s “sym­pa­thy” for Humphries and not enough on her con­dem­na­tion of his crimes.

“The bit about her hav­ing sym­pa­thy for him was a sin­gle line in what I un­der­stand to be lengthy sen­tenc­ing re­marks. It was taken out of con­text. It was made her look like she viewed him as the vic­tim, which was plainly not true.”

Se­nior coun­sel Anne Marie Lawlor said she was an­noyed with sug­ges­tions that Judge O’Con­nor had an un­car­ing at­ti­tude to­wards the vic­tim, given the judge’s lengthy ex­pe­ri­ence as a pros­e­cu­tor of sex­ual of­fend­ers.

‘Ex­tremely strong’

“Judge O’Con­nor is par­tic­u­larly well known for be­ing ex­tremely strong on the role of vic­tims in the process. And that is a well-de­served rep­u­ta­tion and that is ev­i­denced every sin­gle day in that court,” she said.

Se­nior coun­sel Seán Gil­lane agreed that she was “a judge with al­most un­ri­valled ex­pe­ri­ence as a prac­ti­tioner in terms of pros­e­cut­ing cases like this. So the sug­ges­tion that she wasn’t sym­pa­thetic to the vic­tim in the case is plainly wrong.”

Ms Lawlor and Mr Gil­lane said they and their col­leagues viewed the 2½-year sen­tence as gen­er­ally cor­rect in le­gal terms.

“In re­spect of the fi­nal cus­to­dial sen­tence, most prac­ti­tion­ers would be of the view that it was an ap­pro­pri­ate sen­tence in light of the penal­ties avail­able to the court and the man­ner in which the court was obliged to have re­gard to the mit­i­gat­ing and ag­gra­vat­ing fac­tors,” Ms Lawlor said.

The max­i­mum sen­tence for the de­file­ment charges was five years, while the groom­ing charges car­ried a life term, although to date judges have never im­posed more than five years for the of­fence. Mr Gil­lane said an ex­cep­tion­ally tough sen­tence would un­doubt­edly be suc­cess­fully ap­pealed against by Humphries.

“You just can’t ig­nore the fact that some­one has no pre­vi­ous con­vic­tions,” Mr Gil­lane said. “You can’t ig­nore the fact that he’s had a psy­chi­atric break­down. All of th­ese things have to be fac­tored in.”

Judge Karen O’Con­nor: “highly re­garded in terms of vic­tim em­pa­thy”

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