Fianna Fáil pushing to deny repeat offenders bail

Fianna Fáil justice spokesman Jim O’Callaghan

Fianna Fáil is pushing ahead with proposals to deny bail to repeat offenders citing official figures which show a doubling in offences committed by people on bail over the last five years.

But their draft provisions came under criticism at the Oireachtas Justice Committee from penal reformers and some opposition politicians.

The Bail (Amendment) Bill 2017, proposed by Fianna Fáil justice spokesman Jim O’Callaghan, would oblige judges to refuse bail in serious offences where the court is satisfied is it necessary to prevent further offences being carried out.

The bill would also oblige courts to refuse bail to people charged with burglary or aggravated burglary where they have a previous burglary conviction in the last five years or have been charged and are awaiting trial for at least two such offences.

In addition, the bill would require courts to order electronic monitoring of people charged with burglary offences in cases where they are granted bail.

Mr O’Callaghan said official figures show that 12% of all recorded crimes in 2017 were committed by people out on bail.

The figure has doubled in the last five years — from 4,777 in 2013 to 9,519 in 2017.

It includes sharp increases in certain categories: dangerous and negligent acts (up 132%, from 216 to 502); assaults (up 81%, from 504 to 912); drug offences (up 75%, from 1,163 to 2,035). The burglary category rose 8% – from 1,241 to 1,342.

Mr O’Callaghan said the 2013 Prison Service figures showed a recidivism rate for burglary offences of 79.5%, the highest rate of any category.

Joan Deane, vice-chair of AdVIC (Advocates for Victims of Homicide), said it welcomed any attempts to improve existing bail laws, but said the bill did not go far enough as it did not include situations of homicide.

She said there was “a very real problem” of people committing crimes, including homicide, while on bail.

Ms Deane recognised the constitutional right to bail for an accused, but said rights of victims and families “must be given equal consideration at the very least”.

She said the objections to bail given by gardaí were not being listened to sufficiently by judges but favoured courts retaining discretion.

She said there was a particular problem where someone on bail breaches their conditions.

Deirdre Malone, executive director of the Irish Penal Reform Trust, said she believed the bill was unconstitutional.

She said judges were best placed to “weigh up” all the factors in deciding on bail, but that the bill “undercuts” that by making refusal mandatory in every case.

Ms Malone said the proposal would also be ineffective as it would “hugely increase” pre-trial detention in already overcrowded prisons, diluting resources and creating “chaos on the landing” — the latter charge rejected by Mr O’Callaghan.

Associate Professor of Law in TCD, Dr Mary Rogan said that while pre-trial detention rates were low in Ireland, they were increasing — from an average of 500 inmates in January 2015 to 725 in October 2018.

She called for an “impact assessment” of the bail proposals and said refusing bail was a “sticking plaster”. She said what was needed was measures to deal with “underlying causes”.

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