The Supreme Court has ruled that the maximum life sentence may be imposed in rape cases in rare and exceptional circumstances even when there is a guilty plea.

In a judgment clarifying the law on sentencing in such cases, Mr Justice Nicholas Kearns has said the fact of a guilty plea did not mean there must be a reduction in sentence.

Mr Justice Kearns was giving the unanimous judgment of the five-judge court in appeals by two men against life sentences imposed for 'horrific' rape offences.

One man, a former soldier in his 50s had pleaded guilty to 20 counts of sexual offences over an 11-year-period against two of his daughters and four of his nieces when they were young children.

The second man, a farmer from the west of Ireland, pleaded guilty to ten sample charges of rape and two of sexual assault against four of his daughters between 1976 and 1996.