It is not really the done thing, in Ireland, to criticise Judges. When, in December of 2019, this writer published a piece arguing that it was time to impeach Judge Martin Nolan, and remove him from the bench, legally minded friends warned that the article had gone too far. Judicial discretion and independence, after all, are vitally important things in a free society. As a rule, Judges should never have to worry about political retribution for their rulings.
None of that is in dispute.
On the other hand, though, the constitution does empower the Oireachtas to impeach, and remove, Judges. This power has never been exercised.
Yesterday, Judge Nolan sentenced a man who had attacked a toddler with a blowtorch to just 20 months in prison. He had the option of sentencing him for up to five years, which is the maximum allowable sentence.
Instead, he gave him less than forty per cent of the maximum sentence.
The details of the case are as horrifying as they sound, as Isabel Hayes reports for the Irish Times:
A man who walked up to two toddlers as they sat in a buggy outside their house and burnt one of their faces with a mini blowtorch has been jailed for 20 months.
The little boys were strapped into a bike buggy in their driveway waiting on their parents, who were preparing to go for a family outing, when the man approached the buggy and burnt the cheek of one child, before quickly leaving the scene….
….Their mother had just gone back into the house to get sun cream for the children when she heard a scream. The parents found the toddler hysterical in his buggy. His soother had fallen out of his mouth and there was a burning smell. They quickly discovered a burn on his right cheek.
Security footage taken from the house showed a man approaching the buggy with a garden trowel in one hand and an implement in the other. He bent quickly over the buggy before walking quickly away.
Being a judge requires several important traits: Knowledge of the law, personal integrity, good temperament, and so on. Most importantly, though, it requires good judgement. Martin Nolan does not have that, as he has repeatedly proved.
He is, after all, the Judge who sentenced a man to six years in prison for the crime of improperly importing garlic. That is a sentence more than three times as severe as the sentence he handed down for attacking a toddler with a blowtorch.
Justice, and public confidence in the Justice system, requires that ordinary citizens feel that the state is on their side. The parents of the three-year-old toddler in this case came out of the house to smell the burning flesh of their own child, after he was attacked by a man who applied a blowtorch to his face. Judge Nolan decided that this crime warranted 20 months of imprisonment.
It is not the first such absurdly lenient sentence he has handed down. A 59 year old man who grabbed a schoolgirl, put her into his van, and then masturbated in front of her received, from Martin Nolan, a suspended sentence. A 28 year old man who distributed – did not just view, but distributed – child pornography got a suspended sentence. Another man who viewed child pornography was told by Judge Nolan that it seemed “unjust” to imprison him.
A man who invaded the home of a woman, got into bed with her, and her two year old child, and sexually assaulted her while her child slept beside her? He got a suspended sentence too. A 29 year old man who told Gardai that he attacked a 17 year old girl because he wanted to “screw” her? You guessed it: Suspended sentence.
Judge Nolan may be a decent, well intentioned man, who genuinely believes that prison is not the right place for many of these offenders. He is entitled to that view. But the rest of us, in society, are entitled to want somebody with different, and better, judgement in his seat.
Because of Judge Nolan, a man who took a blowtorch, with no provocation, to the face of a toddler, will be on our streets again in September of 2022, and perhaps sooner. That is – to draw a phrase from our history – a thundering disgrace.
There is every reason to remove him from the bench. It should be done as a priority. It will not be done, of course. But it should be.