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Judge Nolan disgraces himself, and justice, again

Zara McCabe, according to the Irish Independent, had 21 previous convictions, “including assault, threats, intoxication in a public place and road traffic offences.”

Despite this, she was a free woman the night she assaulted a homeless man, on November 4th, last year, in the entirely mistaken belief that the man in question had raped her sister. She beat him, to the extent that he required an ambulance, and then, when she was done, she stole his mobile phone. A week later, her victim ended his own life.

Judge Martin Nolan weighed all these facts yesterday, and announced his intention to pass sentence: Ms. McCabe, for her 22nd conviction – this time a brutal assault on a vulnerable man – will receive, if she is found suitable, the grand total of 150 hours of community service in lieu of prison time. She will pay off her debt to society in just under a week.

“You are getting a considerable chance”, he told her. One wonders what she might have had to do in her life to be undeserving of a considerable chance, at this stage.

After all, here is Zara McCabe – yes, the same person – before the courts in December 2020:

A woman and two men have been accused of carrying out a “vicious” street assault on a man who was knocked to the ground and kicked in the head in Dublin city centre.

The alleged victim was unable to flee his attackers due to the “extreme level of violence used”, gardaí said.

Zara McCabe (33) of Brookview Drive, Tallaght along with Michael Brown (38) and John Kavanagh (54), both with addresses at Fr McVerry’s Trust, are all charged with assault causing harm.

It is an objective statement of fact that somebody with 22 convictions, including multiple convictions for assault and threats, is a danger to society, and to the public. In passing sentence, Judge Nolan said that he was taking into account the fact that Ms. McCabe has had a “difficult life”. No doubt, that is true.

What is also true is that this country is full of people who have had difficult lives, challenging upbringings, and poor starts in life. The vast majority of them do not act as Ms. McCabe repeatedly has. They do not go around threatening, and attacking, vulnerable people. They are the people who deserve a “considerable chance”. Ms McCabe, by now, has long since forfeited hers.

It has not really been a banner few weeks for the judiciary. For all of his many soft sentences, Judge Nolan himself cannot be held to account for the sentence passed on Margaret Buttimer, a 66 year old woman from Cork, who was jailed last December for the crime of not wearing a facemask while doing her shopping. But we can say, on the basis of the facts, that the Irish judiciary collectively appears to consider Ms. Buttimer a significantly greater threat to the public than it considers Ms. McCabe, with her long record of violent behaviour.  Ms. Buttimer did not steal. She did not assault anybody. Nobody took their own life a week after being attacked by her. She, though, got prison time, and Ms. McCabe got the community service.

We have covered Judge Nolan, and his sentences, repeatedly here on Gript. “Justice” is an entirely subjective concept – people might agree, or differ, on what justice is in a given crime. But Judge Nolan has not only a duty to consider justice. He must also consider public safety. Time and time again, he chooses – and “chooses” is the only appropriate word here – to allow dangerous people to go free.

Consider this one, in the light of recent concerns about violence against women:

A Dublin father who sexually assaulted his neighbour while her eight-year-old son lay in the bed beside was given a two-year, suspended sentence. The child woke up during the assault, recognised the man and told him to “get off my Mammy” before he leaned over and tried to push him away.

The man later told gardaí that he had no idea how he ended up in the woman’s bed and said he thought the victim was his partner when he began touching her

….Judge Martin Nolan said the man had given “an explanation of sorts” for what he did that night but added “I don’t find it very believable, to put it bluntly”.

He suspended the entire two-year sentence after he said that he didn’t think, considering the man’s lack of relevant convictions and genuine remorse, that the crime justified an immediate custodial sentence.

Consider the facts here, one at a time:

  • The man invaded his neighbour’s home, and got into her bed beside her and her son.
  • He sexually assaulted her
  • Judge Nolan said he found his explanation for the behaviour “not very believable”
  • Judge Nolan felt that the crime “did not justify an immediate custodial sentence”

There’s a fair question to be asked here: If getting into somebody’s bed and sexually assaulting them does not justify a custodial sentence, what does?

If assaulting a homeless man does not justify a custodial sentence, what does?

Despite all of this, sentencing in Ireland is not really a political issue at all. It should be.

Judges have a hard job, especially those dealing with criminal matters. Every day, they encounter acts which would turn the stomach of a decent person. Perhaps, with that, comes some measure of desensitisation to the revulsion a normal person might feel. That is an explanation, but it is not an excuse.

In any decent, civilised society, Zara McCabe would be behind bars for the crime of which she has been convicted. That she is free to walk the streets – along with a long list of past alumni of Judge Nolan’s accused and convicted criminals – is an indictment on Ireland, and an indictment of Judge Nolan, who should not be anywhere near a bench.

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