Martin Nolan is making a joke of justice

One of the problems about doing this job, and producing 400 or more pieces of content a year in a country as small as Ireland, is that it’s almost impossible not to repeat yourself a time or two. Regular readers will therefore know that yours truly believes that Judge Martin Nolan’s repeatedly lenient sentencing patterns are a menace to society, and that in my view, the Oireachtas should intervene and remove him from the bench.

That opinion, however, regularly gets pushback from m’learned friends in the Law Library: Defending Nolan, they point to the fact that his sentences are rarely overturned by the court of appeal, suggesting that the legal community as a whole does not believe that he is doing anything wrong. His sentencing, they say, falls within the accepted guidelines put forth by the Government, and established by long precedent in the judiciary.

In the first instance, this is not so much an argument for Martin Nolan, as it is an argument against the Court of Appeals, and successive Ministers for Justice who have permitted sentencing to become as remarkably soft as it is.

In the second instance, it does not explain stuff like this. Ignore the (customary) suspended sentences in this report from our friends at Courts News Ireland last Friday. Instead, focus on the Judge’s reasoning:

These two men have 172 previous convictions between them, for burglary, firearms, public order, and criminal damage. 172 times, the courts have found that they did harm to society or others.

And Judge Martin Nolan says that he is inclined to “take a chance on them”, and hopes that they will “surprise him in a good way”.

In the first instance, it should be noted that Judge Nolan is not actually taking any chance himself: He is asking society – all of us – to take a chance on two career criminals suddenly deciding to hang up their black sacks with “loot” written on them.

In the second instance, it should be noted that these remarks by the Judge have absolutely nothing to do with what his legal defenders often point to: Had he wished, he could have simply said that the crimes, while serious, did not merit prison under the sentencing guidelines. This would in my view have been an outrage, but it would have least given the Judge’s defenders a legal argument to work with.

But instead, the Judge displayed what could only be described in the most generous terms as unbelievable naivete.

It is important to say at this point that judging character is a key element of any Judge’s job: There are various elements to assessing the appropriate punishment for a crime – one is the punitive element, and the other is the public safety element. Some people should be locked up purely as punishment, in other words, and other should be locked up because it is too dangerous for the rest of us that they remain free.

It is that latter part of the process which allows Judges to take previous convictions into account when sentencing people.

What we have here, therefore, is a Judge who is openly assessing that two men with 172 previous convictions are unlikely to do harm to anybody else if they are allowed to remain free – despite the fact that on 172 previous occasions they have done harm to others.

This is not just being a poor Judge of character. This is recklessness to the point of dereliction of duty.

Judge Nolan, I would argue, should not be on the bench. His basic, most fundamental job, is to defend the public. Instead, very often, he seems to do that job in a way that defends the right to freedom of criminals who threaten the public. I will not recount at length here his previous sentencing outrages, but nothing more need be said than that he feels a man who imported garlic without paying the proper taxes is more worthy of prison time than career criminals with hundreds of convictions.

In any private sector job, he’d have been fired years ago. If you are angry about this, then call your politicians. They can sack him, if they really want to.

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