Ahern aims to curb crime in new bail Bill

 

ENABLING GARDAÍ to arrest a person suspected of breaching bail conditions without warrant and extending the power of the courts to refuse bail where the person is likely to commit less serious offences than currently are among measures under consideration by the Minister for Justice.

Dermot Ahern said he would consult the Attorney General to test the limits of constraints under the Constitution and the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) in reforming the bail laws.

Mr Ahern obtained approval from the Cabinet last Tuesday to work on a new bail Bill, aimed at consolidating and updating existing bail law and improving the operation of bail law generally. This follows a review in the Department of Justice of both common (judge-made) law and statute law.

Since an amendment to the Constitution and the subsequent Bail Act 1997, the courts have the power to refuse bail to a person charged with a serious offence, if satisfied that it is reasonably considered necessary to do so to prevent the commission of a further serious offence.

There have been a number of amendments to the bail law since then to further tighten the law on bail, particularly the provisions of the Criminal Justice Act 2007.

However, Mr Ahern said that a public concern, which he shared, remained that serious crime was being committed by people on bail. As a result he had asked for the review of the law.

“On the basis of that review, I am satisfied that there is merit in providing for a consolidated bail instrument to provide a clear, modern and accessible statement of the bail law,” he said.

“I am also satisfied that a number of areas of the law where weaknesses have been identified should be addressed to ensure that the law operates as effectively as possible. Some examples include the provision of a power of arrest without warrant to the gardaí for breach of bail conditions.”

He will also examine the extent to which it might be possible, bearing in mind the constraints of the Constitution and the ECHR, to provide guidance to the courts in relation to the need to protect the public.

This includes examining a provision whereby the courts would be asked to consider the safety of an individual or of the public in deciding whether bail should be refused to a person charged with a serious offence, in order to prevent the commission of a serious offence.

He will also consider providing guidance to the court on how the seriousness of certain offences is viewed in the eyes of the legislature and the risks presented by persons who commit such offences. This could mean extending the power of the courts to refuse bail beyond preventing “serious offences” in the existing law to more minor offences.