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Bail Decisions (Right of Appeal)

Volume 532: debated on Tuesday 13 September 2011

4. What assessment he has made of the proposal to allow a right of appeal of decisions by judges to grant bail following the death of Jane Clough and other cases. (71309)

There is a right of appeal against bail decisions made by magistrates, but not against those made by the Crown court. This is not a straightforward matter; we are examining the issues very carefully to identify the best way to take this forward.

Jane Clough was stabbed to death outside Blackpool Victoria hospital by her former partner who had been freed on bail after being charged with nine counts of rape, and a similar case took place in the Blackpool area in the previous year. Jane Clough’s parents’ MP, the hon. Member for Pendle (Andrew Stephenson) has introduced a ten-minute rule Bill, which commands wide support. I wrote to the Lord Chancellor this July, asking him to give families and the Crown Prosecution Service the chance to appeal against this judicial bail decision. Will the right hon. Gentleman and other Justice Ministers at least consider making this change to the bail law? After such horrific events have taken place, it is not good enough simply to wash their hands of this subject when they have the power to make the change.

I am not sure whether the hon. Gentleman is aware of it, but along with my hon. Friend the Member for Pendle (Andrew Stephenson), I have met Mr and Mrs Clough. This was an appalling case in which a young mother was tragically killed. No one could have failed to be moved by what the parents said. They made a powerful case and I have said that the Government are considering my hon. Friend’s proposal, but Crown court judges are judges of some seniority and we need to assess the issues with care.

Ministry of Justice figures show that more than 10% of all crimes and almost 20% of burglaries are committed by people on bail. Is it not time that the Government clamped down on the courts giving people bail and tightened the rules? Is it not self-evident that the more people are remanded in custody, the fewer the crimes will be committed and the fewer victims there will be?

I am sure that my hon. Friend is aware that many people who are remanded in custody and subsequently found either to be either guilty or not guilty would not have merited a custodial sentence. That is an issue that the House has to confront.

I am afraid that the Chamber will be concerned about the complacency of the language used in the Minister’s response. I am sure he will agree that judges, like the rest of us, are not infallible and make mistakes. If he accepts that and the fact that it can lead to catastrophic effects, why not allow the CPS the right to appeal in limited circumstances against a decision of a Crown court judge to grant bail?

I have answered this question, and I thought I did so in very reasonable terms. I said that we all appreciated that the case was very serious and that the Government would consider the proposal. We have to be aware, however, that granting an appeal on a decision of a Crown court judge—a more senior member of the judiciary than a magistrate—raises serious issues, which need to be considered with care.

I am really sorry to raise the matter again, but a justice Bill is going through Parliament and it seems to the rest of us to provide the ideal opportunity to make the change required. The Minister will be aware that many colleagues—and not just those in the House—constituents up and down the country, victims of crime and experts working in the justice system all think that Ministers in the Justice Ministry are not fit for purpose. They were out of touch when it came to the issue of rape; they were out of touch when it came to providing a 50% reduction in sentence to those who pleaded guilty; and I am afraid they are out of touch on this issue. The Bill is in Committee, so will the Minister agree to support our amendment, which would allow the CPS in limited circumstances to appeal against a decision of a Crown court judge to grant bail?

I am not sure how many times I can repeat to the right hon. Gentleman that I have said that the Government are considering these matters. I am not going to announce policy on the hoof when very serious issues are raised. It is not proper to make a link between the provisions in the Bill and the case that arose because the restriction on custodial remands in the Bill applies only to magistrates courts and not to the Crown courts—so it would not have affected the case that gave rise to the question.