The Schedule provides that provision may be made by law for refusal of bail by a court to a person charged with a serious offence where it is reasonably considered necessary to prevent the commission of a serious offence by that person. I am puzzled as to why the Government decided it should refer to a serious offence as opposed to an indictable one. I am not aware of any definition of "serious offence "as interpreted by an Irish court. I am aware that, under the 1937 Constitution, there is a reference to a minor or summary offence. It is of fundamental importance that people have confidence that this provision, when inserted in our Constitution, will have some considerable meaning.
The history of the implementation of our bail laws is to a large extent to be implemented. For the last year in respect of which records are available, in the Dublin Metropolitan circuit, 1989 cases could have been taken by the authorities to estreat or forfeit bail moneys. In only one case of the 189 was an application made by the authorities and that was unsuccessful. Various attempts by me to establish accountability for this have failed. My criticism that the estreatment of these bail moneys was not pursued has been met by a deafening silence. It is of considerable importance in that context to ensure that existing bail laws are enforced because, if we do not, there will be a genuine feeling in society that the provision may not make the change which people and this House want. In that regard, there is an urgent need for a remand centre. Recently, a judge in a criminal court said he wanted to impose a custodial sentence on a person convicted of burglary but would not do so because the person concerned would be out in no time laughing at the judge and the system. We must not reach the stage whereby we continue a liberal prison regime and people are given temporary release on the sole criterion of insufficient space while people are remanded in custody prior to their trials. It is of considerable importance that dangerous criminals, who are likely to commit indictable offences if admitted to bail, are remanded in custody. Inasmuch as that is important, it is also fundamental that we end the system whereby people are given temporary release from Irish prisons on the sole criteria that there is insufficient space to hold them.
The Criminal Justice Act, 1984 made a genuine attempt to change the bail regime. The Oireachtas decided that anyone who committed an offence while on bail would receive a consecutive sentence. That intention had considerable merit but gradually the courts began to interpret this to mean a consecutive suspended sentence. As word went out to the criminal world that one might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb, the number of offences committed by people on bail increased. Between 1990 and 1995 the number of offences increased from 2,500 to approximately 5,500. Once people feel there is no deterrent to committing an offence while on bail they will offend.
I have suggested for some time that two linchpins are required, the first being the bail referendum, which is now coming to pass. The second relates to reducing delays in criminal trials, about which my party is increasingly concerned. The legislation proposed by the Minister for Justice provides that an individual is entitled to make an application to the court after four months if his trial has not been held and if he has been remanded on custody instead of being allowed bail. This will mean there will be an application for review in every case when a person is remanded in custody, because no serious criminal trial is held within four months. There is a need to terminate the preliminary examination procedure.