Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Oh No! Not More About Bail!

This chap brings up the old bail question: why was so-and-so granted or refused bail?

I never comment on cases where I do not know all of the facts, so here goes, in a general sort of way:-

The Bail Act provides for a presumption of the right to bail unless there are substantial grounds to fear that the defendant will fail to appear at court, commit further offences, or interfere with witnesses. That, for about 95% of cases, is that. There are other grounds but they are few. Very many people who are remanded in custody go on to receive a non-custodial sentence (e.g. Pete Docherty, last week).

All tabloid journalists, most police officers and many prosecutors dislike the very concept of bail. That's understandable. They see all that trouble to catch some varmint and then a silly old fool of a magistrate gives him bail.

The magistrate will follow the Bail Act. All bail is a calculated risk, and the failures hit the headlines. Get away from the media scrum and you are faced with arguments that are both moral and practical:- To incarcerate someone unconvicted is an awesome intrusion into his liberty that should only happen if absolutely unavoidable. To leave people in prison for months when about half of them go on either to be acquitted or receive lesser sentences than custody is unjust.

As I have often said, a bail decision is a lonely one, even for a bench of three magistrates. Get it wrong and the pack is snapping at your heels. Get it right and nobody ever says thanks; apart, that is, from the occasional terrified wife who has been sitting at the back of the court waiting to find out whether her man will be coming home that day, and who mouths her thanks through the armoured glass.

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