THE sentence handed to Constable Stephen Carroll killer John Paul Wootton is to be referred to the Court of Appeal.
Twenty-one year-old Wootton, who was 17 at the time of the murder in March 2009, was told he should serve at least 14 years in prison before being considered for release, while 41-year-old Brendan McConville was handed a 25-year sentence.
Followwing Monday’s sentence Constable Carroll’s widow Kate expressed her disgust at a sentece she said would not serve as a deterrant to others who may get involved in such crime.
Following a letter to the Director of Public Prosecutions Barra McGrory QC from the Justice Committee chair Paul Givan asking for a review of the “lenient2 sentence, trial judge Lord Justice Paul Girvan today explained the legal reasoning behind the sentences he handed down.
He told those at Belfast’s Royal Courts of Justice that he had to act within the existing legal guidelines.
But he said he would support any move to reconsider them because of the need for a greater deterrent in such crimes and added that the Court of Appeal was the only place where this could be done.
The judge said the guidelines “laid down special rules for the fixing of the tariff in relation to persons committing a murder when under the age of 18, fixing a lower starting point in such cases as compared to tariffs for adults.
“The accused Wootton fell within that provision.”
He added that “as the trial judge in this case I feel bound to express the view that the current guidelines and the case law based on them do require reconsideration to take account of modern conditions”.
The judge said the guidelines needed “to properly take into account the argument that there is a heightened need for deterrence and retribution in the fixing of tariffs, at least in relation to certain categories of murder including, in particular, the terrorist murder of a police officer”.
In a statement, the Public Prosecution Service said: “In view of the clarification by Lord Justice Girvan, the Director of Public Prosecutions, Barra McGrory QC, will refer the sentencing in this case to the Northern Ireland Court of Appeal.
“Careful consideration is being given to the terms of the reference which will be made within the statutory 28 days.”
Following the judge’s clarification on Thursday, Mr Givan said the decision by the Director of Public Prosecution to refer this to the Court of Appeal “will now provide the opportunity for justice to be done in this case.
“Whilst this statement should have been made at the time of sentencing, I nevertheless believe this unprecedented development is recognition of the public outcry to the leniency of the sentence.”