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Breach Of Conditions

Volume 972: debated on Thursday 25 October 1979

The text on this page has been created from Hansard archive content, it may contain typographical errors.

I beg to move amendment No. 8, in page 3, line 13, leave out 'in any case'.

With this we are to take Government amendments Nos. 9, 11, 13, 14, 16, 17, 21 and 22.

The amendments seem to be a substantial introduction into the legislation, but they all centre around a fairly straightforward change that was canvassed in Committee and which the Government undertook to consider.

Under present legislation, if an accused person breaks a condition of bail, the court may impose a sentence of imprisonment only if it is imposing or has imposed a sentence of imprisonment in connection with the original offence with which the accused was charged and for which bail was granted.

The hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) and the Scottish Council for Civil Liberties pointed out that in some respects that was an unfair part of the legislation since the appropriate sentence for breach of a bail condition should depend on the seriousness of the breach and not on the sentence that the court might think appropriate in relation to the original offence. A breach of a bail condition might be extremely serious while the original offence was fairly trivial. Alternatively, the breach may be minor while the offence of which the accused is convicted is serious.

The amendments seek to remove that potential anomaly and provide that the question whether imprisonment should be an appropriate sentence for breach of a bail condition should not depend on, or be connected with, the sentence that the court has imposed or is imposing in relation to the original offence.

I am not sure whether when the SCCL raised the point it was aware that if its recommendation were accepted imprisonment would be made more available than it would otherwise have been. Before the amendment was introduced imprisonment could be imposed for breaches of a bail condition only if it was to be imposed for the original offence. The direct consequence of the views of the SCCL and the hon. Member for Garscadden is that the Bill has been toughened up. While the Government are willing to accept their views. I hope that the hon. Member is not too disappointed that the eloquence of his arguments has succeeded on this occasion.

5.30 p.m.

I have been provoked to my feet literally for 30 seconds by the Minister. I cannot speak for the Scottish Council for Civil Liberties. I imagine that the Council was well aware of what it was doing in making this recommendation. I certainly did. I would like to thank the Minister for looking at the problem and coming up with what seem eminently sound solutions. A simple point is involved. It was an extraordinary arrangement in the original Bill. I could not understand the reason for it. It seems a perfectly sound principle that an offence should be looked at on its merits and should not depend on the powers available to the court in relation to what may have happened on a totally different matter—namely the original offence for which the offender was placed on bail. I recognise that a wider discretion is opened for sheriffs. That is a matter that individuals may regret. I still think that it is the right legal principle. I am glad that the Government have gone along with it.

I join my hon. Friend the Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) in thanking the Minister for the consideration that has been given to this point. It would be a pity if, arising from this debate, the impression was given that the reason for the change in the Bill was to make imprisonment for breach of bail conditions more freely available. I do not think that this is the intention of the Minister or of the Bill. I think that the whole purpose of the change is to separate a breach of bail condition from the actual offence on which the accused person has been charged. I hope that sheriffs will feel that this discretion they have been given can be used with discretion and that they therefore need not have regard to the offence of which the accused has been charged when disposing of breach of bail conditions.

I thank the hon. Member for Stirling, Falkirk and Grangemouth (Mr. Ewing) for his remarks. It is an indisputable fact that imprisonment will be more available than it would otherwise have been as a result of this amendment. This is a simple matter of fact. I am happy to emphasise that the Government would not wish to see imprisonment used more frequently than might be suitable because this provision has been introduced. Its purpose is solely to remove the anomaly that would otherwise have existed. I accept that it was on that basis that the hon. Member for Glasgow, Garscadden (Mr. Dewar) raised the matter in the first place. It is certainly on that basis that the Government have been willing to make this amendment and the various other amendments which seek to achieve the same purpose in other clauses of the Bill.

Amendment agreed to.

Amendment made: No. 9, in page 3, line 14, leave out from '( b)' to end of line 20 and insert:

'imprisonment for a period—
  • (i) where conviction is in the district court, not exceedinp 60 days; or
  • (ii) where conviction is in the sheriff court or in the High Court, not exceeding 3 months.'.—[Mr. Rifkind]
  • I beg to move amendment No. 10, in page 3, line 27, leave out 'an unlimited' and insert 'a'.

    This is a very minor amendment. It removes the words "an unlimited" before the word "fine". The amendment has the excellent characteristic of shortening the statute by removing two unnecessary words. No statute should have unnecessary words. The words "a fine" in terms of other legislation mean an unlimited fine. There is perhaps the added advantage in removing those words that, if they remained, they would tend to suggest that fines should be large. If they are removed, the fine is not given any emotive suggestion. It is, therefore, I think, more likely to be appropriate.

    I welcome the amendment if only because we have at last found a lawyer in the person of the Solicitor-General for Scotland who is in favour of using fewer words. I always understood that advocates and lawyers charged their clients according to the number of words they used. I have a funny feeling that his own profession will complain bitterly about using fewer words.

    Amendment agreed to.

    Amendment made: No. 11, in page 3, line 28, leave out from '( b)' to 'imprisonment' in line 30.