Changing the Bail Laws

Hmm, I\’m really not all that sure about this.

Murder suspects should not be eligible for bail except from in very rare circumstances, the Government is set to recommend. Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary, will announce a review into the bail laws. At the moment the judge has discretion in setting bail terms in murder cases.

Now we can see why Straw thinks a tightening up is necessary: that bloke Weddell strangled his wife then killed two more while on bail.

Howeverr, however, just because you\’ve been accused of, charged with, murder, doesn\’t mean you actually committed murder: that\’s what the trial is going to determine at some point in the future.

So a general assumption of no bail for those accused of murder is quite literally the jailing of the innocent.

A defendant is kept in custody if there are reasons to believe he or she will commit an offence or interfere with witnesses.

Those seem good reasons to deny bail: what you\’ve been accused of doesn\’t seem to be.

10 thoughts on “Changing the Bail Laws”

  1. “I’m a big fan of no bail for murder – it’s a disincentive to that crime’s commission”

    And if you didn’t commit murder? How does a disincentive work with innocent people? In any case, if the disincentive of death didn’t work with murderers, how are changing bail conditions going to work?

    I’ve got a brilliant idea: why don’t we let an independent legally-trained person decide whether bail is appropriate or not. So much better than politicians and fixed rules. We could call these people “judges”.

    “shows that we still regard the [blah blah blah]”

    Ah, I see! We’re using the law to *send a message*. How wonderfully Blairite. But wouldn’t a press release or an article in a newspaper be cheaper?

    “The time limits concentrate everyone’s mind wonderfully, and ensure that justice is not delayed.”

    Now that I can agree with.

  2. Tim,

    It used to be the law of Scotland that bail was not available to those charged with murder. Then the Human Rights Act came along, and now it isn’t the law any more.

    But what prevented the ‘jailing of the innocent’ was the 110-day rule – no person could be held on remand in a relation to a crime tried on indictment for more than 110 days. This was an absolute rule, and many a case was tossed out because it hadn’t been observed. That, combined with the availability of the ‘Not Proven’ verdict which juries have absolutely co compunction in using, was a pretty good trade off. I’m a big fan of no bail for murder – it’s a disincentive to that crime’s commission, and shows that we still regard the deliberate or reckless taking of another person’s life as a particularly grave matter.

    If you want bail for murder, fine – but by the same token, set time limits within which the case must come to court. The time limits concentrate everyone’s mind wonderfully, and ensure that justice is not delayed.

  3. Kay Tie,

    My apologies if my comment upset you – I tend to be quite traditional, and given that the old law worked quite well at ensuring speedy justice I couldn’t see any particularly good reason for changing it.

    If you didn’t commit murder, then I’m afraid that a no bail for murder law does make you a loser for a short period of time. That’s why we have appeal courts and awards of compensation for those wrongfully detained. However, as I said the trade-off under the old position was that justice was very much speedier than it is now; and it would be an interesting, if totally futile, exercise to hypothesise whether any suspected murderers would ever be bailed anyway, given all the factors a judge would have to consider in determining a bail application, and in particular the nature of the offence and the accused’s criminal record.

    As Sam Goldwyn once said, if you want to send a message use Western Union. However, with the greatest respect I think that you’re confusing a government’s desire to ‘send a message’ over murder with the administration of public policy towards murder. I chafe at being described as being Blairite (grrrr!!!gnash!!!), but I would think there is a difference between a newspaper soundbite (which is what Tim linked to), and a policy which worked well and which was disrupted by another policy. And although mistakes will always occur in every system designed for every activity which can be conceived by humankind, as far as I was aware what has helped reduce micarriages of justice more than anything else in E & W has been PACE. In making that statement, I acknowledge I am no expert and welcome opinion to the contrary.

  4. “If you didn’t commit murder, then I’m afraid that a no bail for murder law does make you a loser for a short period of time.”

    Or, as Denis McShane said, “42 days is only 6 weeks: it’s only a school summer holiday you’re missing. What are you all worrying about?”

    No, detaining innocent people because of Kafkhaesque rules is just plain wrong. If someone is charged with murder, but is no risk to anyone else (e.g. aged husband helped end suffering of aged wife) there is no reason to remand. Blanket rules from politicians will deny justice (often more than the injustice the rule was supposed to fix), and bland words of “life’s unfair” from people who never think it will happen to them are deeply wrong (I’m talking about you, Denis McShane, minister for Europe and Feeble Rationales).

    “That’s why we have appeal courts and awards of compensation for those wrongfully detained.”

    There is no compensation for someone held on remand and found not guilty.

  5. The problem is that so many of the judges appear to be bloody fools. Actions by the bloody fool Jack Straw is hardly the best answer to that.

  6. “My apologies if I’ve erred on the question of compensation – I suppose being declared innocent by a court might be compensation enough.”

    Only if you feel that you are not a free person, that you belong to a master and can have your liberty taken away at a whim.

    In which case, I suggest this series of books is right up your alley.

  7. “If someone is charged with murder, but is no risk to anyone else (e.g. aged husband helped end suffering of aged wife) there is no reason to remand.”

    Kay Tie, you know the maxim that hard cases make bad laws as well as I do. There is a profound difference in fact and degree between the type of case you describe and the vast majority of murder arrests – indeed, one would be interested to know what proportion of the total number of murder arrests are comprised of cases of this type. I may be being wrong and unfair in suggesting this, but perhaps what seems to be your absolute mistrust of politicians might be blinding you to the fact that sometimes at least some of them do talk sense.

    My apologies if I’ve erred on the question of compensation – I suppose being declared innocent by a court might be compensation enough.

  8. “A defendant is kept in custody if there are reasons to believe he or she will commit an offence or interfere with witnesses.”
    There is another good reason to deny bail: if the defendant is likely to flee. I suppose that somebody (innocent or guilty) who faced a long term of imprisonment might be tempted to disappear.

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