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New Bail Bill: initial observations

23rd July 2015

The heads and general scheme of a new Bail Bill have been published today by the Minister for Justice and Equality. IPRT has considered the detail of the Bill, and is now preparing a detailed submission to the Oireachtas Committee on Justice, Defence and Equality.

Initial observations:

IPRT welcomes all moves towards greater transparency around decision-making made by the Courts regarding imprisonment, whether pre-trial or on conviction. IPRT has long-called for judges to give clear, comprehensive reasons behind decisions to imprison, ideally in writing.

However, IPRT is concerned at any proposals that may lead to an increased use of pre-trial detention where this is not proportionate to the risk of further serious offences being committed. We are particularly concerned at the excessive use of detention on remand for certain groups in Ireland, including women charged with non-violent offences and children aged under-18.

IPRT’s core position is that prison should be reserved for the most serious offences and for those offenders who present an ongoing risk to society. We are opposed to the introduction of any measures which serve to increase the numbers in prison without demonstrable impact on reducing crime. Prison is damaging in itself, and must be used sparingly. 

Considerations:

  • Any infringements on an individual’s liberty can only be justified if necessary, proportionate and lawful.
  • Strict limits on the length of time that an individual may be held in pre-trial detention in Ireland should be enshrined in law.
  • Bail conditions can and should be tailored to eliminate or reduce the risk of re-offending whilst on bail.
  • However, empirical research commissioned by IPRT (as part of an EU project led by Fair Trials International) has identified: an over-use of bail conditions for people at the low end of the offending scale; inadequate monitoring of compliance with bail conditions; and – crucially – inadequate supports, including bail hostels, for people to meet their bail conditions.
  • The provision of bail supports is particularly important for children and young adults (aged up to 25) who struggle to meet bail conditions due to factors which can include chaotic backgrounds, unstable accommodation, and immaturity.
  • In bail applications where the accused has alcohol or drug addiction issues, judges should consider that any bail conditions requiring the accused to abstain from drink or drugs are highly likely to be breached and, therefore, may amount to impossible conditions.

Read more: The Practice of Pre-Trial Detention: Monitoring Alternatives and Judicial Decision-Making

Learn more