Court sentencing often comes into the spotlight when judges treat offenders too leniently.
There have been a number of alarmingly light sentences in Northern Ireland in recent months, ranging from the hopelessly inadequate jail term that was given to David Lee Stewart for his brutal and wildly reckless drunken driving killing of the student Enda Dolan to the recent decision not to jail Conal Corbett, 20, who was linked to a bomb attack that could have killed police.
But it is important to acknowledge that the courts often also get it right. Yesterday Judge Neil Rafferty told Downpatrick Magistrates’ Court that he had “thought long and hard” about whether or not to imprison Dorothy Gardner, 49, of Dungannon for fabricating remarks to the DUP MLA Jim Wells.
Judge Rafferty clearly has made the correct decision.
A short custodial sentence sends out a message that must be sent out loud and clear in all such cases: if you make up stories about the serious misconduct of another person in a deliberate attempt to destroy them you will go to prison.
Ms Gardner had made a series of lies in a police statement – that she had attended a hustings event in Downpatrick where Mr Wells had told the audience he believed treatment to HIV patients should be stopped. Also that she had witnessed a row involving the DUP MLA in Rathfriland.
Liars and fantasists who make up allegations with at best no concern that their calculated lie will damage their target, and with at worst the deliberate intention of causing such harm, are typically troubled people. But unless there is clear psychiatric mitigation, they must be jailed.
Such liars surface occasionally in various situations, and wreak havoc. There have been examples of people who were found to have fabricated their claim that they were victim of a sex attack. Aside from the wickedness of such a lie, the fact of such occasional lies can introduce a small element of doubt as to the validity of the vastly larger number of cases in which someone claims to have been assaulted, and really has been.