The Minister for Justice has said she believes that judges should be able to set minimum tariffs for life sentences of up to 30 years if the crime is deemed to be heinous and the perpetrator is considered to be an ongoing danger to society.

Helen McEntee made the comments after the Cabinet approved a series of penal and prison reforms.

The reforms were recommended by a cross-sectoral group involving the Department of Justice, the Prison Service, and the Probation Service.

Ms McEntee said: "It is essential that the punishment that people receive matches the crime that they have committed."

She stressed, however, that judges would retain discretion to set minimum tariffs for life sentences under the plan, rather than any new mandatory regime.

She said she hoped to bring forward legislation next year.

The measures also provide more judicial discretion to impose non-custodial sentences on low-risk offenders, like community service, rather than a prison term.

Ms McEntee said this would ensure that such a person could retain links to their family, community and employment, something that would improve the chances that they would not re-offend.