The legal world often says that criticism of judicial sentences is made without adequate consideration of the context of particular cases, and is therefore ill-informed.
On occasion that might well be true.
It is also true that problems with overly lenient sentences often have their origins in Westminster, and the laws that are passed and the maximum sentences that they can attract.
It is further the case that the governments of the day, and indeed the voters, are culpable for lenient sentencing because there is little appetite for building the extra prisons that would be needed for widespread tougher sentences.
But it is clear that the sentence given to David Lee Stewart for killing Enda Dolan in a shockingly reckless drunken driving spree is far too short.
Stewart has been sentenced to three-and-a-half years in jail, and the same amount of time out on licence.
Reflect for a moment on what this man did: he consumed 13 drinks and took cocaine. Then he went careering out of the city centre in his van, undertaking a taxi and charging through a red light. Then he struck Enda, a student, on the Malone Road, and did not even stop, carrying him on the roof. Then Stewart drove off. When he was caught, he refused to give a sample. He lied about having drunk two pints but the scale of his drinking was later revealed on CCTV. He had been staggering before he got into the van to speed off.
This despicable man should have been sentenced at or close to the maximum 14-year term for death by dangerous driving. But in fact he deserves an even longer term, because the maximum term should be higher – at least 20 years. After all, prisoners typically serve half their term behind bars, so a 20-year term is likely to be a 10-year spell in prison. That is hardly a long time for calculatedly driving in a manner that puts lives in grave and immediate and obvious peril.
Enda Dolan’s family have behaved with great dignity. The sentence for their son’s killer must be increased significantly.