Judge's suggestion to sex offender to 'find a wife' causes concern

Judge's suggestion to sex offender to 'find a wife' causes concern

NORTHERN IRELAND'S judiciary is to receive further guidance and training after a judge suggested a convicted sex offender should "find a wife".

Irish Legal News reports that Dame Siobhan Roisin Keegan said the comments by Judge Brian Sherrard KC had "caused legitimate concern". Dame Siobhan is the Lord Chief Justice of Northern Ireland (Príomh Bhreitheamh Thuaisceart Éireann)  — but known as Lady Chief Justice — and head of the judiciary in Northern Ireland.

Judge Sherrard had been passing sentence on Cathal Patrick Feeney (35) from Beragh in Co. Tyrone when he made the remarks. The trial took place at Dungannon Crown Court.

The defendant, described by a PSNI officer as being "considered dangerous to females", had met his victim online. The court heard he had 67 previous convictions, some relating to domestic abuse, according to Irish Legal News.

During the trial it also emerged that eight women, including Feeney's mother and grandmother, had taken non-molestation orders against him.

But Judge Sherrard said Feeney should not be banned from contacting women online. "You are still a young man," he said. "There's nothing that will stop you moving on with your life in a more productive way, finding work or finding a wife or partner, getting a family and a home."

He was sentenced to four-and-a-half years in prison and placed on the sex offenders' register.

Sinn Féin MLA Linda Dillon subsequently submitted a formal complaint about the judge’s remarks to Dame Siobhan Keegan.

Explaining her decision to Irish Legal News, Ms Dillon said: “The comments, encouraging the defendant to go out and ‘find a wife or partner and get a family and a home together’ and the refusal to ban him from contacting women online are simply astonishing. Especially when the defendant has so many previous offences, and there has been an acknowledgement of a recent escalation in his offending.”

DUP MLA Diane Forsythe also submitted an official complaint.

The BBC reports that Women's Aid in Northern Ireland also condemned the comments by Judge Sherrard as "incredibly problematic" and "horrifying".

Dame Siobhan said, “I am aware of the concerns about the comments made by His Honour Judge Sherrard when sentencing a defendant at Dungannon Crown Court on Friday 7th October. I acknowledge that these comments have caused legitimate concern.

“I have considered the full transcript of the judge’s sentencing remarks and I have spoken to him. Following from this, I have provided advice and guidance to the judge in relation to these matters. In light of the importance of this issue generally I have also arranged for further guidance and training for all the judiciary, to address these concerns," she added.