The Irish Penal Reform Trust has said that the situation where the Minister for Justice decides the duration of a prison sentence for those sentenced to a life term needs to be addressed.

Malcom MacArthur, who was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of nurse Bridie Gargan in 1982, was given reviewable temporary release from prison on Monday after 30 years.

Executive Director of the Irish Penal Reform Trust Liam Herrick said that the Irish approach relating to this is out of step with best international practice.

He said the trend across other countries is to give a judicial body, such as a parole board or a court, the power to make decisions about when people are released.

Mr Herrick said that it was not possible to comment on or question the quality of the decision-making process by ministers.

However, he said that transferring the power to an independent body with the necessary expertise would be a way of ensuring the fairness of the process, especially in high-profile cases.

Mr Herrick said: "It removes any perception that either media controversy or political controversy might influence a minister if you simply remove it from the minister.

"That's what's happened in most other common law jurisdictions and in the civil law jurisdictions in Europe, generally. That power is given to a court, which is removed from the political system as well. I think that's much preferable."

Mr Herrick said he believed that Minister for Justice Alan Shatter had already tasked his officials with a review of the parole board's powers and there was an Oireachtas Committee on penal reform also looking at the issue.

He said he thought it was likely that proposals for law reform on this issue "are likely to come forward in the coming months".

Elsewhere, the association representing victims of crime in Ireland has called for the introduction of consistent and minimum sentences of at least 15 years for convicted murderers.

ADVIC was responding to the decision by the Minister for Justice to approve the development of a pre-release programme for Catherine Nevin.

She was convicted for the murder of her husband Tom and is 12 years into a life sentence.

The Department of Justice said this evening Minister for Justice Alan Shatter has made no decision concerning the granting of temporary release to convicted murderer Catherine Nevin.

Mr Shatter approved a recommendation from the parole board that a pre-release programme be developed for the 61-year-old who is serving life for the murder of her husband.

The Department says recommendations have been made concerning her attendance on an educational course but no decision has been made to allow her to leave the Dóchas centre.

“Recommendations have been made concerning attendance on an educational course but no decision has been made at this point in time,” he said.

“A life sentenced prisoner is eligible for review by the Parole Board after serving seven years in custody.

“Each case is considered on its individual merits and the Board take into account the full range of circumstances including the nature and gravity of the offence, the potential threat to safety, the risk of reoffending, the conduct of the prisoner and the prisoner's engagement with the range of services on offer in the prison before making a recommendation to the minister who then has the final decision.”