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Bail

Volume 406: debated on Tuesday 10 June 2003

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To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department (1) what proposals he has to ensure that prosecutors may appeal against bail decisions in cases where it is highly likely defendants may re-offend; [116243]

(2) whether his proposals to provide the prosecution with extended rights of appeal against bail will apply to decisions taken in a Crown court; and if he will make a statement. [116244]

The Bail Act 1976 provides that the court may refuse bail if there are substantial grounds for believing that the defendant would commit an offence if released on bail. Where (in the case of an adult defendant) the evidence of such a risk is the fact that he was already on bail at the date of the offence, Clause 14 of the Criminal Justice Bill requires the court to refuse bail unless it is satisfied that there is no significant risk that he would commit an offence.The Bail Amendment Act 1993 gives the prosecution a right of appeal to the Crown court against a decision by magistrates to grant bail, but this is at present limited to cases where the defendant is charged with or convicted of an offence which is punishable by imprisonment for five years or more (or an offence of taking a conveyance without authority or aggravated vehicle taking). Clause 18 of the Criminal Justice Bill extends this right of appeal to cover all imprisonable offences, as recommended by Lord Justice Auld. It will continue to apply only to decisions taken by magistrates courts.

To ask the Secretary of State for the Home Department what procedures are in place to inform victims and witnesses of decisions relating to bail conditions of suspects and early release of prisoners. [116245]

In England and Wales (separate arrangements apply in Scotland and Northern Ireland), the police are generally responsible for keeping victims informed of case developments, up to and including their conclusion in the courts. At present, this would not routinely include informing victims about bail decisions although the police have discretion to do so in cases where, for example, it would put the victim at risk of harm if they were not so informed.One of our manifesto commitments is to introduce a Victims of Crime Bill during the course of this Parliament. The Bill, which will be introduced as soon as parliamentary time allows, is likely to include a statutory Code of Practice to replace the Victim's Charter. The Code will place some 70 to 80 obligations on criminal justice agencies to deliver specific services, within prescribed timescales, to victims. Among these obligations will be a specific requirement for the police to inform victims of bail decisions and, when relevant, bail conditions.The Code will apply to victims, including those who go on to give evidence as witnesses. We also recognise that we need to do more to support witnesses who are not victims. An interagency working group has recently undertaken a wide-ranging review of the services provided to witnesses. Among other recommendations, it proposed improving the information given to witnesses and that good practice guidance be developed and disseminated following local pilot studies in witness care.

Victims already have a right to be consulted about the release of prisoners. Since April 2001, the National Probation Service For England and Wales has had a statutory duty to consult and notify victims about all release arrangements and release conditions where an offender receives a custodial sentence of 12 months or more for a sexual or other violent offence. There are currently no plans to extend this service to witnesses.