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19 August 2006

Shock Rise In Bail Breaches - Sunday Post

by Paul Johnson, the Sunday Post

CASES of offenders breaching special conditions of bail have increased tenfold since the Scottish Executive came to power.

The statistic is being condemned by opposition politicians as evidence the administration is failing to protect the public.

In 1997 there were 701 cases where offenders broke additional bail conditions while they were free awaiting trial. That had risen to 7086 cases by 2004, the latest data available.

The figures relate to contraventions of special orders imposed by the courts, such as electronic tagging and curfew orders.

They also include exclusion zones, commonly set up to protect the victims of domestic abuse from being approached by offenders. The figures don't include offenders committing additional crimes while on bail.

The statistics were contained in a reply by Justice Minister Cathy Jamieson to a parliamentary question submitted by the SNP's deputy spokesman for justice, Stewart Stevenson.

The Banff and Buchan MSP told The Sunday Post, "We can see clearly the Executive has utterly failed to ensure appropriate supervision for people on bail. The system clearly allows too many offenders to breach conditions and suffer no penalties and to continue re-offending.

"The bail system is singularly failing to serve the public and protect them properly."

Last September, First Minister Jack McConnell came under attack over figures showing the number of people committing additional offences while on bail in the Strathclyde and Lothian and Borders police force areas had more than tripled over five years.

A week later he admitted to the Labour Conference in Brighton, "People in Scotland are sick to the back teeth of hearing about crimes committed by people out on bail."

He promised the system would be toughened up, including raising the minimum sentence for bail breaches from three months to one year.

Last month, the Lord Advocate, Lord Boyd of Duncansby, sent new guidelines to prosecutors in murder cases. These stated the Crown would oppose bail in all murder cases and if bail was granted the decision would be appealed.

The guidelines came soon after the case of a teenage murder suspect who was allowed to go on a family holiday while on bail.

The Scottish Tories chief whip, Bill Aitken, has joined the condemnation of the figures.

"These are shocking and it would be interesting to see if sanctions were imposed upon any of these offenders."

An Executive spokesperson said, "The increase in breaches of conditions reflects an increase in the granting and enforcement of additional bail conditions in order to provide safeguards over and above the standard bail conditions.

"Examples of this would be exclusions from an address in domestic abuse cases, curfew orders and electronic monitoring.

"So it's a good thing more of these special conditions are being imposed in appropriate cases.

"While that may lead to an increase in breach rates, it's still the right thing for judges to do if they consider such conditions appropriate.

"Bail is a difficult issue that concerns many people, but we're committed to improving the system.

"Through the Criminal Proceedings (Reform) Bill, we are increasing the maximum sentence for breach of bail conditions from two to five years in solemn cases and from three to 12 months in summary cases and reasons will be given for every bail decision." Categories [Justice]
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