Minister for Justice Alan Shatter has denied he was criticising judges for sending too many people to prison instead of sentencing them to community service.

Earlier, Mr Shatter told prison officers that legislation requiring judges to first consider community service in cases where people are given a sentence of less than a year was under-utilised.

Speaking on RTÉ's News at One, the minister said he did not criticise the judges.

He said it was very important that our judiciary independently determine sentences.

He said he pointed out to prison officers at their annual conference a concern that in 2012, 88% of those sentenced to terms of imprisonment were sentenced to one year or less.

He said he made the point that he believed the Community Service Orders scheme could be used to a greater extent.

Speaking at the conference, the minister also said he would review this matter and if the criminal justice legislation was not being applied, it would have to be examined.

He said it was of crucial importance the legislation was applied by the courts for the benefit of the taxpayer, the prison system, the offender and the community.

The minister said he accepted that sentencing was a matter for an independent judiciary, but this was an important matter of public policy.

The Prison Officers' Association said it supports more use of community service because the prisons are overcrowded.

It said there are too many inmates on protection because of threats on their lives and feuds between criminal gangs.

POA considering strike action

The POA earlier said it will recommend that prison officers go on strike if the Government imposes any further pay cuts on them.

The association said it will not accept any measures that are more stringent than those already agreed with Government.

The POA is the first group of public servants to serve notice on the Government that it will go on strike if any further pay cuts are imposed.

POA President Stephen Delaney said the union will ballot and recommend industrial action, including strike action.

He believes that will be approved by its 2,200 members.

Prison officers say €20m has already been taken from their payroll, and as a group of workers they have already produced significant savings.

Shatter flags referendum on Court of Appeal

Mr Shatter also said it was anticipated that the referendum would take place to amend Article 34 of the Constitution to provide for the establishment of a Court of Appeal.

He said the Government had committed itself to establish a Court of Appeal in the Programme for Government.

He added that it would be a system for appealing High Court Decisions which would in turn reduce the number of cases heard by the Supreme Court.