UTV NEWS POLL
Should there be a law in Northern Ireland giving a fixed minimum jail term specifically for anyone found guilty of murdering a police officer?
John Paul Wootton, 21, was told by a judge on Monday that he must spend a minimum of 14 years in jail for his part in the 2009 killing - prompting an expression of disgust from the victim's widow Kate Carroll.
The Director of Public Prosecutions, Barra McGrory QC, is now deciding whether to refer the sentence to the Court of Appeal on the grounds that it may be unduly lenient.
"John Paul Wootton was man enough to go out and do the crime and he was defiant enough to sit in the dock and wave to all the people in the gallery," Kate told UTV, welcoming the development.
"He knew exactly what he was doing."
Sinn Féin councillor Brendan McConville must serve at least 25 years in prison for the murder, while the age of his accomplice Wootton was considered a mitigating factor - he was just 17 at the time of the shooting.
Fourteen years for a life is dreadful - I've got a life sentence ahead of me, so he should too.
But both Kate and the chairman of the Stormont Justice Committee, DUP MLA Paul Givan, have expressed fears that such leniency will not act as a deterrent for young people being lured into criminal or terrorist groups.
"In fact, I believe it will encourage those organisations to use more young people because they are of the view that the courts won't give them a proper punishment," Mr Givan told UTV.
Constable Carroll was shot dead in a dissident republican ambush in Craigavon while responding to a 999-call.
Calls are now being made for new legislation to ensure that anyone found guilty of murdering a police officer in Northern Ireland is sentenced in line with the rest of the UK, where a minimum guideline of 30 years exists.
In England and Wales, the Criminal Justice Act 2003 sets out a starting point recommending 30 years in jail - although that can be raised or lowered depending on any aggravating or mitigating circumstances.
But, despite the increased dissident threat in Northern Ireland and the targeting of security force members, no tariff or guidelines exist for sentencing anyone convicted specifically of the murder of a police officer.
A Department of Justice spokesperson confirmed: "Sentencing in individual cases is a matter for the independent judiciary. For those convicted of murder, a mandatory life sentence applies and the judge has the option to impose a minimum tariff at which point it is for the Parole Commission to consider the issue of release.
"There is nothing in the law about tariffs for particular types of murder."
In the Republic of Ireland, anyone found guilty of murdering a Garda officer can face a minimum of 40 years behind bars under the Criminal Justice Act 1990.
A spotlight has now been thrown on the issue in the wake of Monday's sentencing.
"We have a motion to be debated here in the Assembly on 11 June calling for a review of sentencing for the murders of police officers," Mr Givan said.
We can't have a scenario where the life of a police officer in Northern Ireland is worth less than the life of an officer in England.
Paul Givan, DUP MLA
Ulster Unionist MLA Ross Hussey, who is also a member of the Policing Board, said no one could fail to be moved by Kate Carroll's words outside the court where her husband's killers were sentenced.
"Her disgust at the 14-year minimum sentence for one of the murderers will be shared by all right-thinking people in Northern Ireland," he said.
Mr Hussey is calling on the Assembly to act quickly to ensure that legislation is passed to offer greater protection to police officers in Northern Ireland.
"We ask an incredible amount of our police officers - they are expected to put themselves in harm's way on a daily basis on behalf of society," he added.
"I believe they are entitled to expect that if something does happen to them, then the perpetrator will face the most severe penalty possible.
"Why should police officers in Northern Ireland enjoy less protection that their counterparts in the rest of the United Kingdom?"