As the Deputy will appreciate, the restricting of a person’s liberty is a serious issue, given the Constitutional presumption that a person is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law.
While the State’s bail laws do provide for the refusal of bail in certain circumstances, the presiding judge is entirely independent in the exercise of their judicial functions and the decision to grant bail in a particular case is solely a matter for the judge.
As the Deputy may be aware, the Bail Act 1997 was introduced following a referendum in 1996 which amended the Constitution to enable a court to refuse bail for a person charged with a serious offence to obviate the risk of another serious offence being committed while on bail.
Over the last 25 years the State’s bail laws were further strengthened, specifically by the Criminal Justice Act, 2007, the Criminal Justice Act, 2015, and the Criminal Justice Act, 2017.
In considering whether to refuse bail under the 1997 Act, the Court is required to have regard to persistent serious offending by an applicant and, in specific circumstances, the nature and likelihood of any danger to a person or to the community from granting bail.
The 2017 Act provides for stricter bail terms for repeat serious offenders, including the use of curfews and strengthens Garda powers to deal with breaches of bail. If an individual fails to comply with any bail conditions, the judge will issue a bench warrant and this gives An Garda Síochána power to arrest and bring the person before the court to answer all charges relating to the bail.
In the event of a breach of High Court bail, the defendant must be brought before the Court as soon as practicable for a revocation hearing. A breach of bail may also result in an additional charge and an order and/or surety for ‘forfeiture and estreatment’ of the bail money.
While I am advised by An Garda Síochána that the State's amended bail laws have proven to be effective, I can advise the Deputy that all legislative provisions are kept under review. However, there are no immediate plans to introduce further bail legislation at this time.
In tandem with the development of the Third National Domestic, Sexual and Gender Based Violence Strategy, I am currently progressing a number of proposals to enhance the existing legislation we have to combat all forms of DSGBV.
I recently announced my intention to publish a Bill which will include new criminal offences for stalking and for non-fatal strangulation. While both are already crimes, I’m proposing a number of changes to make the law in this area clearer and stronger, and to encourage victims to come forward.
I will soon publish a new Hate Crime Bill which will introduce new, specific aggravated offences with enhanced penalties for crimes motivated by prejudice against certain characteristics, including gender. This will mean that certain types of crimes can be prosecuted as hate crimes where they are motivated by misogyny.
Before the end of September, I will publish a new Sexual Offences Bill which will introduce important changes including:
- Extending victim anonymity to further categories of victims
- Repealing provisions for sentences to be delivered in public
- Legal representation for victims in certain circumstances
Separately, I will seek to enact the Sex Offenders Bill later this year which will strengthen the management and monitoring of sex offenders in the community.
I also recently signed an order to bring into operation the Criminal Procedure Act 2021. This Act provides for the use of preliminary trial hearings which will significantly improve the trial process for victims of sexual offences, including by reducing delay and disruption that might re-traumatise victims.