Is Judge Nolan even doing the basic parts of his job?

It’s one thing, you know, to be a lenient judge. Martin Nolan has that reputation, and it is well earned.

It’s quite another thing, though, to be a Judge and to give a sentence so lenient that it is actually illegal. That’s what happened this week.

Before we get onto the law, it’s worth discussing the case itself: Somebody with four previous road traffic convictions, who drove into the hard shoulder of a motorway, and killed somebody, has committed a grievous crime. Not, perhaps, a crime of malice. But certainly a crime of negligence. It is very straightforward: If the guilty person had been looking where they were going, their victim would be alive today.

It might be argued – reasonably – that there is little deterrent effect from jailing such a person. After all, jail is supposed to deter us from deliberately committing crimes, and this was an accident. It is not as if leaving this person to walk the streets will suddenly encourage others to start wandering off the motorway at high speed and hitting pedestrians – hardly anyone would ever want to do that, jail or no jail.

But justice is not only about deterrence. It is also about, well – justice. If you cause somebody to lose their life, and deprive a family of their father or mother or husband or wife or son, then most people would agree, I think, that justice demands you pay a price for that. That you serve your time for it. That you face a consequence.

Not being allowed to drive for one year, as Judge Nolan initially decreed, hardly meets the standard.

And of course, the law agreed. Judge Nolan’s verdict of a one-year disqualification was so lenient that it was outside the bounds of the law.

How humiliating is it for any Judge that he should have to be told that his sentence is, effectively, illegal?

Judge Nolan is not an amateur in criminal law. He specializes in Criminal cases. He would have had sight of this case, and access to the court documents, long before he heard it. He could have read the details. He could have looked up the sentencing guidelines in legislation. Had he done any of this, he would surely have known that the sentence he offered was too lenient by law.

So what explanation is there, other than that he did not do this basic part of his job? That’s a question, by the way, not an accusation. But it is, I think, an important question.

This was a very bad moment, in other words, and it requires an explanation. But then, Judge Nolan has many bad moments. We all know it. We all read of them. And yet, he remains on the bench, for life. I’m not sure that’s justice, either.

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