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More bail breaches since summary justice reform: report

13 March 2012

Evaluation of the Impact of Bail Reforms on Summary Justice ReformConvictions for breach of bail "have increased quite notably" since the summary justice reforms, though the reasons for the rise are unclear, according to Scottish Government research just published.

The study, Evaluation of the Impact of Bail Reforms on Summary Justice Reform, set out to explore whether the reforms had contributed to fewer instances of breach of bail conditions (especially failure to appear); making bail decisions more transparent and consistent; and ensuring that accused were given an ordinary language explanation of the conditions, and the consequences of breach. Changes to the bail laws were not part of summary justice reform, but took place around the same time and were regarded as having the potential to impact on the reforms.

It was found that the number of bail orders made has fallen roughly in proportion to the number of proceedings taken. They are used mainly for crimes of dishonesty, common assault and breach of the peace. However the number of convictions for breach of bail conditions (including both solemn and summary cases) increased, whether due to more use of special conditions, a tougher atitude from police and courts, or accused not taking bail seriously – though failures to appear (FTA) at intermediate and subsequent diets are down.

Both Crown and defence respondents considered that tougher conditions are now being applied to breach of bail conditions. "Quantitative data also show that breach of bail is being treated more seriously post-reform to a degree, with increased custodial sentence lengths being applied (mainly for non-FTA breach), and an attitude of non-tolerance of repeat breaches of bail among the judiciary", the report notes.

Regular offenders generally understood the purpose of bail, but "those who were less habitual offenders commented that they found the system as whole, including the explanation of bail and its conditions, difficult to understand and often had to rely heavily on their defence agent to explain" what they were supposed to do. The report suggests that this indicates a "mismatch" between what the judiciary, who are supposed to explain the conditions, regard as ordinary language and what the accused do – but recognises that defence agents are likely to have to play a role here anyway.

There may also "be room for further consistency in decision making".

"Overall", the report concludes, "while almost all of those interviewed viewed the current system of bail as fair, they questioned its effectiveness, especially in terms of deterring future breach amongst repeat offenders."
 

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