Header Item Courts (No. 2) Bill 2016: Referral to Select Committee
 Header Item Bail (Amendment) Bill 2016: Order for Second Stage
 Header Item Bail (Amendment) Bill 2016: Second Stage

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Dáil Éireann Debate
Vol. 938 No. 1
Unrevised

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Courts (No. 2) Bill 2016: Referral to Select Committee

Minister of State at the Department of Justice and Equality (Deputy David Stanton): Information on David Stanton Zoom on David Stanton I move:

That the Bill be referred to the Select Committee on Justice and Equality pursuant to Standing Orders 84A(3)(a) and 149(1).

  Question put and agreed to.

Bail (Amendment) Bill 2016: Order for Second Stage

  Bill entitled an Act to make further provision in relation to bail, to amend the Bill Act 1997, and to provide for related matters.

Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald I move: "That Second Stage be taken now."

  Question put and agreed to.

Bail (Amendment) Bill 2016: Second Stage

Tánaiste and Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): Information on Frances Fitzgerald Zoom on Frances Fitzgerald I move: "That the Bill be now read a Second Time."

I am very pleased to present the Bill to the House. It is a relatively short Bill which focuses specifically on commitments on bail in the programme for Government. The programme for Government commits to the preparation and fast-tracking of legislation aimed at providing for stricter bail terms for repeat serious offenders, strengthening Garda powers to deal with breaches of bail, increasing the use of curfews and introducing electronic tagging for those on bail where requested by the Garda. These are important objectives which should command support in the House and which will increase protection for the public and victims of crime but which can be achieved while also respecting the rights of those facing criminal charges. They form part of a wider programme of criminal law reform which includes, for example, legislation that had the full support of the House, the Criminal Justice (Burglary of Dwellings) Act and the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Bill which was published in recent weeks and has yet to be brought into the House. In that regard, I also inform Members that it is my intention to seek Government approval for a legislative proposal to allow An Garda Síochána, on a statutory basis, to detain intoxicated persons in Garda stations where they are considered to be a danger to themselves or others. Obviously, we are backing up this legislative reform with sustained investment in Garda resources which a recovering economy is enabling us to do. Deputies are very familiar with the programme of investment that has been taking place and also with the increase in Garda numbers. By 2021 the Garda workforce should comprise a total of 21,000 personnel, to include 15,000 Garda members, 2,000 Garda Reserve members and 4,000 civilians. We are investing €330 million, including €205 million under the capital plan, in much needed Garda information and communications technology, ICT, infrastructure between 2016 and 2021. There is a good deal of catching up to do.

  Operation Thor which was launched in November 2015 has led to a sharp decline in the rate of burglary crime, with the most recent Central Statistics Office, CSO, crime figures showing a decrease of 31% in the number of burglaries for the 12 months ending 30 September 2016. I acknowledge that one crime is one too many. If one has been the victim of a burglary, it is certainly one crime too many. There has been a drop in the number of burglaries, as well as welcome reductions in other categories of property crime, including theft, the rate for which is down by 14.6%, while the rate for robbery is down by 11.1%. Overall, nine out of the 14 crime categories in the CSO classification showed a decrease. I have spoken on other occasions about the ongoing work we are doing with the CSO and the work being done within An Garda Síochána to make sure the statistics provided are as robust as possible. That is greatly helped by the investment in ICT infrastructure.

  I will turn to the provisions of the Bill and outline what is proposed. Section 2 expands the factors which a court may take into account in refusing bail where this is reasonably considered to be necessary to prevent the commission of a serious offence by the person concerned. Currently, one of these factors is previous convictions of the accused. Section 2 specifically provides that a court may take into account the extent to which the number and frequency of previous convictions of the accused person for serious offences indicate persistent serious offending by him or her. It also enables a court to take into account the nature and likelihood of any danger to the life or personal safety of any person or danger to the community that may be presented by the release on bail of a person charged with an offence punishable by ten years imprisonment or more, in other words, a very serious offence. The decision to refuse bail will, of course, always be a matter for the court. However, these additional factors which I believe will be extremely helpful and which the court may take into account will constitute significantly strengthened guidance from the Legislature on the factors relevant to decisions on the granting or refusal of bail.

  Second 3 expands the number of conditions which may be set by a court in granting bail. A court has general discretion to attach conditions to bail, but section 6 of the Bail Act 1997 also lists specific conditions that may be set such as having to reside in a particular place, to report to a particular Garda station, to surrender a passport, to refrain from going to certain places and to refrain from having contact with certain people. Three new specific conditions are being added to this list in section 3, namely, to refrain from direct or indirect contact with the victim of the alleged offence or any member of his or her family, to refrain from driving a vehicle where the person is charged with a serious driving offence and to observe a night-time curfew, whereby the person on bail could be required to stay in a specified place between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. the following morning. These conditions are very important in terms of personal safety and very much based on the direct experience An Garda Síochána in managing various offences and cases.

  Section 3 also provides for the arrest without warrant of a person on bail in carefully defined circumstances which respect the constitutional rights of persons facing criminal charges. The Garda already has, under section 6 of the Bail Act 1997, a power to arrest a person on bail who is about to contravene a condition of bail but only on a warrant of arrest issued by the court. There are legal constraints on the extent to which the law on arresting a person on bail can be extended beyond this. Section 3 contains a limited but important power of arrest without warrant of a person on bail who is contravening a condition of bail and where the arresting garda considers arrest to be necessary to prevent harm to, interference with or intimidation of the victim of the alleged offence, a witness to the alleged offence, or any person with whom the person on bail is not permitted to contact as a condition of bail. This is very much in line with the Criminal Justice (Victims of Crime) Bill that we will be introducing in which we consider this very much from the victim's perspective or lens and in terms of providing for his or her safety.

  Section 4 deals with electronic monitoring. The Bail Act 1997 was amended in 2007 to permit a court granting bail to make it a condition of bail that the person’s movements be monitored electronically. This provision has not been brought into force largely because of concerns about how best to operate a system of electronic monitoring in a way that is sustainable and targeted. Section 4 amends the existing uncommenced provision by linking electronic monitoring with an application by the prosecution. The objective is to ensure, as far as possible, electronic monitoring is used in bail cases on a consistent and sustainable basis and that it is focused on those cases where it will prove most effective. In that regard, in parallel with the passage of the Bill, a working group has been established to identify how best this provision might be operated, including the categories of offences or offenders most suitable for electronic monitoring and the making of contractual arrangements for the provision of the service.

  Section 5 introduces an important new provision regarding the evidence a court may hear when deciding on an application for bail. It will enable a court, on application by a garda, to hear evidence from the victim of the alleged offence as to the likelihood of direct, indirect or attempted interference by the accused with the victim or a member of his or her family and as to the nature and seriousness of any danger to any person that may be presented by the release of the accused on bail. The section also provides that such evidence, where the victim is a child under the age of 14 years or a person with a mental disability, may be given on the victim’s behalf by another person such as a parent or guardian or a family member.

  Section 6 requires a court to give reasons for its decision to grant or refuse bail or impose conditions of bail. Deputies and members of the public often raise this issue and ask why was such a person was given bail. The objective of this provision is to promote the greatest possible transparency in the hearing of bail applications and the greatest possible understanding of decisions of the courts. This is a very important provision in people having an increased understanding of why and how courts make decisions in different cases. These are clear and focused provisions which will enhance the powers of courts in deciding whether to grant bail and which will improve the legitimate control which they may exercise over those granted bail. They will enhance the protection of victims of crime and those at risk of crime, while respecting the rights of those accused of crimes.


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