The Irish Sentencing Information System (ISIS): A practical guide to a practical tool

AuthorBrian Conroy - Paul G. Gunning
PositionBL, Researcher, Irish Sentencing Information System - BL, Researcher, Irish Sentencing Information System
2009] ISIS: A practical guide 37
The Irish Sentencing Information System (ISIS) is a
steering committee designed to plan for and provide information
on sentencing. The Committee consists of a judge from each
jurisdiction and Tom O’Malley, BL, Senior Lecturer in Law NUI,
Galway. The judicial members of the committee are the
Hon. Mrs Justice Susan Denham (Chairperson), the Hon. Mr
Justice Kevin O’Higgins, the Hon. Mr Justice Esmond Smyth,
and Her Hon. Judge Miriam Malone.
In this article we will discuss the pilot project which is
being undertaken by ISIS in the Circuit Court. The ISIS Steering
Committee decided at the outset to collect data for the project by
contracting researchers, each of whom has to date been a barrister
in the early years of his or her practice with experience of
criminal law and procedure, to attend Circuit Criminal Court
sentencing sittings. The first two researchers, Brian Conroy BL
and Patricia Hill BL, were engaged in relation to the project in the
middle of 2006, and began their work by drafting a suitable
template for the collection of sentencing information, under the
direction of the Steering Committee and in consultation with
Circuit Court judges. Once the Steering Committee was satisfied
that a template covering all relevant matters had been drafted,
the researchers began to attend Dublin Circuit Criminal Court
sentencing hearings on a regular basis in order to
gather sentencing information for the purposes of the pilot
scheme. Accordingly, the great majority of the sentencing
* BL, Researcher, Irish Sentencing Information System.
BL, Researcher, Irish Sentencing Information System.
The Hon. Mr Justice O’Higgins retired from the committee in July 2008, and
the President of the High Court is nominating a new representative.
Judicial Studies Institute Journal [2009:1
information currently on the pilot database is drawn from cases
heard by the Dublin Circuit Criminal Court.
Having made an invaluable contribution to the initial
success of the pilot scheme, Patricia Hill was replaced as a
researcher on the project in April 2008 by Paul George Gunning
BL, who is also responsible for gathering sentencing data from
Dublin Circuit Criminal Court.
Significantly, the pilot scheme was extended outside
Dublin for the first time in April 2008, when Orfhlaith McCarthy
BL was appointed as a researcher for the Cork Circuit.
In consequence, data in relation to a number of cases processed
by the Cork Circuit Criminal Court has now been posted on the
pilot database.
Sentencing information systems have previously been
established in other jurisdictions, such as New South Wales and
Scotland. While the members of the Steering Committee have had
regard to the existing systems in those jurisdictions in considering
the manner in which the ISIS might operate, the Committee has
steered its own course as regards the nature of the pilot database
to be created here. The pilot system now in place here does not
simply imitate one of the various sentencing schemes created
abroad, but rather aims to take what are considered to be the best
aspects of each, and combine these with modifications to suit the
Irish legal landscape. The result is a sentencing tool which is
intended to be entirely descriptive in nature. Salient details of a
broad range of sentences handed down in respect of offences
dealt with before the Circuit Criminal Court are posted on a
searchable database that would be available as a reference tool.
It is intended that the extent to which, and the way in which,
a judge uses the database will be a matter entirely within his or
her own discretion.
The Steering Committee decided from the outset that
researchers would deal only with matters in relation to which they

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