21-year-old legal loophole on incest must be closed immediately

In Families by Denis Naughten

Amendment sought as a result of Roscommon sentencing

Denis Naughten will move a new law in the Dáil this Friday to close off a loophole created 21 years ago which allows women a far more lenient sentence than men for the offence of incest.

Under the current law a man faces up to life imprisonment if convicted of incest yet a woman can only be sentenced to a maximum of seven years. The Bill to be debatedon Friday will increase the penalties for incest committed by females in line with the existing penalties for males.

The prison term which may be imposed on male offenders has been increased twice and now carries a term of life imprisonment, however, the prison term which may be imposed on female offenders has never been increased and remains at a term of seven years imprisonment, which was originally imposed under the Punishment of Incest Act 1908.
kids“This discrepancy came to the fore during the sentencing of a woman in January 2009 who was convicted of incest and sentenced to the maximum seven years by Roscommon Circuit Court. At the time the judge in that case pointed to the need for legislative intervention to remedy this discrepancy and there was a public call from legal experts to have equal sentencing for men and women convicted of incest,” explained Denis Naughten. “The purpose of this Bill is to do exactly that and to have the option of life imprisonment open to judges upon conviction of either a male or female.”

The law was previously amended in relation to males in 1993 following the “Kilkenny incest case” where a man who abused his daughter received the maximum seven year sentence upon conviction. At the time the maximum term of imprisonment was raised from seven years to 20 years. This was amended again in 1995 when the maximum term for a male was increased to life imprisonment.

“In order to address this anomaly, and ensure equality of treatment of sentencing in incest cases, this Bill proposes to increase the maximum sentence available to judges in respect of females to a term of life imprisonment so that the law no longer makes an irrational distinction between male and female perpetrators of such horrific offences,” added Denis Naughten.

“This Bill also highlights the State’s failure to actively review and modernise legislation in the area of sexual crimes as well as other areas. While some aspects of the law have been modernised to reflect crimes such as those highlighted in the 2009 Roscommon case, the fact remains that under the current law there is a gulf between the sentencing of a man and the sentencing of a women in the case of incest.

“It is also galling to see that while the law has been changed twice since the Kilkenny incest case, and both changes happened in advance of the offenders’ release from prison, in the Roscommon situation the perpetrator will be released well in advance of any change in the law.

“While this has no bearing on the sentence served by those already convicted, it does at least help the victims who can see that their tragedy is being taken seriously by lawmakers with the view to ensuring that no-one can receive such a light sentence in future.

“The objective of this Bill is to ensure that through our laws we protect those who are most vulnerable in our society – our children and all victims of such horrific crimes,” concluded Denis Naughten.


Criminal Law (Incest) (Amendment) Bill 2012: