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Joel case shows why we need guidelines for sentencing. Now

ANOTHER week – another outrageously lenient sentence handed down in our courts.

THIS time a couple convicted of the manslaughter of a 59-year-old woman walked free from court, after their two-year sentences were suspended.

Eleanor Joel and Jonathan Costen were found guilty of the manslaughter of Joel's mother, Evelyn, found maggot-infested and starving in her bed.

The pair were ordered to complete 240 hours of community service and, farcically given the gravity of their crime, told to remain sober in public.

The unbelievable leniency of this sentence has caused outrage and dismay, unsurprisingly as the Joel case is one of the most shocking I can remember. The trial judge described the treatment of this vulnerable woman as "an almost medieval picture of neglect".


The evidence was stomach churning. Evelyn lay in her own faeces in a filthy, maggot-ridden bed – a scene reminiscent of a horror movie.

Starving and emaciated and crawling with maggots – that was Evelyn's condition when she was found. I can only imagine the scene that greeted paramedics on the day Evelyn was discovered. She died a week later in hospital.

It is simply outrageous that the two people who in effect killed MS sufferer Evelyn, by not caring for her,, will not spend a day behind bars.

Once again this sentence makes a mockery of justice. Is it any wonder that victims' group Advic has branded the sentence "disgraceful"?

What value does this sentence put on a human life, the life of a vulnerable person?

Our society should be judged by how we treat such people, in life and death.

The sentence handed down by Judge Sean O Donnabhain is just the latest in a catalogue of recent court decisions that have called the public's notion of justice into question.

In January, there was public outcry when Judge Paul Carney freed rapist Patrick O'Brien on bail following conviction. He later revoked the bail and expressed his regret.

Last year the case of Anthony Lyons hit the headlines, after all but six months of this businessman's six-year sex assault sentence was suspended. He was last seen on a Dubai beach.

And of course there was the high profile case of Paul Begley, who was sentenced to six years for avoiding customs duty on imported garlic. This was reduced, only after an appeal.

I could go and on with this. There are many, many cases where soft sentences were imposed on those convicted of serious crimes and harsh sentences for crimes that were not life and death offences.

Something must be done, and soon, to rectify this. The reputation of our criminal justice system depends on it.

The Law Reform Commission must carry out an examination of sentences handed down for serious offences. Sentencing guidelines must be issued – and I imagine a lot of judges would be happy if they were.

Such prescribed sentences would ensure justice for victims of crime and their families – and certainty for judges.

Until such guidelines are in place, the DPP must do its job and appeal the leniency of light sentences – beginning with the Joel case.