For some time I have been concerned at the number of offences being committed by persons on bail. Therefore, I requested and obtained Government approval late last year to commence work on a new bail Bill. The options that will be considered for inclusion in the new bail Bill include the following — providing that the courts must have regard to the nature and seriousness of any danger to any person or the public posed by the release of the accused person on bail; the creation of presumptions that bail should be refused for people charged with certain types of serious crime — in view of European Convention on Human Rights restrictions, such presumptions would act as a form of guidance to the courts in identifying those who present unacceptable risks of committing serious offences if granted bail; and extending the powers of the courts to refuse bail where necessary to prevent the commission of further offences to include more minor offences below the current level of seriousness required by the Bail Act 1997.
Other issues that will be considered for inclusion are provisions relating to the following — no automatic bail on appeal from a District Court conviction; inclusion of public safety-public order criteria; power of arrest for gardaí for breach of bail conditions; provision of guidance to the courts against granting bail in certain serious cases; reasons to be given when a prosecution objection to bail is overruled in certain cases; and proving foreign convictions.
This proposed legislation is complex and requires close consultation with relevant offices, including the Office of the Attorney General. I hope to be in a position to bring proposals to Government before the end of the year.
The Criminal Justice Act 2007 strengthened the law with the aim of facilitating a stronger challenge by the prosecution to applications for bail by persons charged with serious offences and of further improving decision making by the courts. In addition, the law provides for adverse consequences for a person who commits an offence while on bail.
Statistics compiled by the Central Statistics Office indicate that in 2009 there were 27,228 offences recorded where the suspected offender was on bail. It should be noted that these figures refer to the number of offences committed, not the number of suspected offenders on bail. In 2010, up to 31 March, there were 5,398 such crimes recorded. As the number of such crimes recorded in 2008 was 29,568, the 2009 figure represents a reduction of 8% on the previous year.
The decision to grant bail in a particular case is a matter for the court, which is, subject only to the Constitution and the law, independent in the exercise of its judicial functions. There is a constitutional presumption in favour of bail, since, in the eyes of the law, a person is innocent until proven guilty.