U-Turn on Soft Bail Laws; Victory for the Mail's Campaign over Release of Dangerous Criminals
Barnes, Eddie, Daily Mail (London)
Byline: EDDIE BARNES
MINISTERS are to tighten the controversial law allowing convicted killers to be granted bail.
In a major victory for campaigners, new safeguards are to be introduced to prevent dangerous criminals being freed unless their conviction is quashed.
The change came after it was revealed that five murderers had been let out of jail by judges under a law which allows them bail if they win the right to appeal.
Ministers will now amend the legislation to make it more difficult for dangerous criminals to be freed.
The change will be a major U-turn for Justice Minister Jim Wallace, who only two months ago said he 'did not consider that legislative change is required'.
In what will be a particular embarrassment to Mr Wallace, it is understood that an amendment will be added to his flagship Criminal Justice Bill, now going through parliament.
The change relates to the law which gives judges the power to free convicted criminals on bail if they win the right to appeal their sentence.
Under the present rules, lawyers for the appellant can argue for their client's release, but the Crown has no say - leading to claims that the system is loaded in favour of criminals.
The new regulations will, for the first time, give the Crown the right to contest a judge's decision.
Crown lawyers will be able to appeal a judge's ruling if they believe it endangers public safety.
Senior lawyers in the Crown Office say that the reform would come into play in such cases, enabling them to challenge the ruling of a judge and insist that dangerous killers should stay in jail.
But they are resisting calls for further reform, under which the Crown would have the right to argue its case during the actual bail hearing.
Sources say such a move would place far too great a strain on the already hard-pressed system.
A well-placed Crown Office source said: 'Reform in some shape or form is inevitable. These cases are extremely rare, but one option is that the Crown be given a chance to appeal if the need arises. …