A judge erred when he failed to jail a man who sexually assaulted his sister’s 14-year-old friend, a court was told on Thursday.
The assault took place in a secluded spot by the seaside after the girl had agreed to meet the 19-year-old male who had befriended her over Snapchat, the Court of Appeal was told.
The man later fled the country following the incident on December 4th, 2018 and had been living in England before returning to Ireland in July 2020.
The man, who is now 22 and cannot be identified for legal reasons, later pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting the girl, contrary to section 2 of the Criminal Law (Rape) (Amended) Act 1990, at a hearing at the District Court, Midleton, Co Cork, in December 2020.
He also admitted to asking her to touch him, contrary to section 4 of the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences) Act 2017, and to contacting a child for the purposes of sexual exploitation, contrary to section 7 of the same act, at the same hearing.
At a later hearing at Cork Circuit Criminal Court, in February this year, he was given a two-year suspended sentence by Judge Seán Ó Donnabháin.
The Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) has since appealed the sentence on the grounds it was unduly lenient.
The DPP also submits the trial judge erred by failing to place sufficient weight on the fact that the man must have known in advance of the offending that the injured party was underage.
Seeking to evade prosecution was another aggravating factor, the DPP said.
Donal T McCarthy BL, for the DPP, told the Court of Appeal that an entirely suspended sentence in this case was “not in accordance with principle”.
Elizabeth O’Connell SC, for the respondent, said the onus was on the director to show there had been a “substantial departure from the norm” in sentencing.
She said her client was a “young man” who “has not walked away from this without any deterrents”.
The offending, Ms O’Connell continued, has had a “very, very severe impact” on his life and he spent a month in custody after he was arrested following his return from England.
But he was now in full-time employment and “pulling his weight”, counsel added.
He had also pleaded guilty at the earliest opportunity, had no previous convictions prior to this offence, and has not come to the attention of gardaí since, she continued.
Judgement has been reserved.