Northern Ireland judges given training and guidance

Northern Ireland’s judiciary is to receive further guidance and training after a judge suggested a convicted sex offender should “find a wife”, the lady chief justice has said.

Dame Siobhan Keegan said the comments by Judge Brian Sherrard KC had “caused legitimate concern”.

Judge Sherrard made the remarks during the sentencing of Cathal Patrick Feeney, 35, from Main Street in Beragh.

He was handed a prison sentence and placed on the sex offenders’ register.

The lady chief justice was responding to a letter sent by DUP assembly member Diane Forsythe, who said the judge’s remarks last Friday raised serious concern.

The court heard he had met his victim online, the Belfast Telegraph reported.

‘Horrifying’

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

In sentencing the defendant, who a police officer had described as being “considered dangerous to females”, Judge Sherrard said Feeney should not be banned from contacting women online.

He did not want him to be “excluded from normal life”, the judge explained, adding that the online contact was not problematic, “but rather the behaviour afterwards”.

“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.”

Diane Forsythe said the judge’s comments had prompted serious concern

Writing to the lady chief justice, Ms Forsythe asked that she reflect on what had been said by the judge “in the context of wider efforts in the justice system to help those ensnared in abusive relationships”.

Women’s Aid in Northern Ireland had also condemned the comments by Judge Sherrard as “incredibly problematic” and “horrifying”.

It showed “the judge did not understand the risk this man is to women, given his well-documented history”, the organisation continued.

‘Victim’s bravery’

In her response to Ms Forsythe, Dame Siobhan said she had “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.

Speaking to BBC News NI, Ms Forsythe said she welcomed the lady chief justice’s reply.

“She has looked into it, she’s taken action and she’s really committed to rolling out training throughout the judiciary to improve the awareness, the response and the reaction within the system to these kind of issues.”

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