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Our View: Courts must lead the way in punishing corruption  

The supreme court

It was very difficult to comprehend the thinking behind the supreme court’s decision to hand out a suspended 15-month jail sentence to a public employee found guilty of bribery and abuse of power. It was an extremely lenient sentence,

Among the mitigating circumstances, taken into account by the court, were the “personal and family circumstances of the defendant,” the fact that aged 68 he had no previous convictions. It also said “we note that a long period of time has passed since the committing of the offences of which the defendant has been found guilty.” The offences were committed 14 years ago.

The time factor appeared to have been a major consideration for the court, which said in its decision: “It is only because of the time that has passed that has passed since the offences were committed, aided by the fact that because of this, some of those convicted in these cases have been released from prison… that we are led to exercise our discretion in favour of suspending the execution of the sentences we have imposed.”

Perhaps for law professional these are strong legal arguments for not handing out a custodial sentence, but for the lay person the decision could be seen as a very soft approach on corruption. In effect, the suspended sentence has no meaning given that the defendant is no longer a public employee and cannot possibly commit the offences that would lead to terminating the suspension of the sentence.

In short, this was a meaningless punishment, that could be construed as high tolerance to corruption by the judiciary. What message is given when a public employee, found guilty of taking bribes of €15,000, abusing his position, unlawfully obtaining material benefit, among other things, is let off with a suspended jail sentence by the court? There is no legal technicality – not even the passing of time since the committing of the offence – that can justify such leniency.

And this, at a time when the executive has been introducing measures and setting up bodies to fight corruption. Declarations of zero tolerance to corruption have a very hollow ring when the courts cannot give a custodial sentence to a corrupt public employee, who betrayed the trust placed in him by state, for personal gain. Such public employees should be made an example of by the courts and not be treated like someone guilty of a minor transgression. If there is to be zero tolerance to corruption, the courts must lead the way.

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