A recent report by the legal think tank Justice has shed light on concerning trends in the bail decision-making process within the UK legal system, particularly for individuals awaiting trial. The study, which encompassed an analysis of 742 hearings, has revealed significant deviations from the Bail Act and Criminal Procedure Rules, which require decision-makers to follow set processes and provide reasoning for their decisions.
In cases where the prosecution objected to bail, the relevant law was mentioned in only 40% of the cases.
A mere 20% of decisions to remand in custody or to impose bail conditions referenced the relevant law and provided comprehensive reasoning.
There exist pronounced disparities affecting non-white defendants, non-UK nationals, those without legal representation, individuals appearing via video-link, and those in a secure dock.
The report further underscores a bias against non-white defendants, who are over 50% less likely to be granted unconditional bail compared to white defendants for high severity offenses. Non-UK nationals face a nearly 50% greater chance of bail denial. Moreover, those accused of high to very high severity offenses and lacking legal representation are 44% more likely to be remanded in custody.
Emma Snell, the report’s author and a senior legal fellow at Justice, emphasized the fundamental expectation that judicial decisions, especially those concerning pre-trial detention, should be made following the correct legal processes and communicated clearly to the defendant.
Reactions from the Magistrates’ Association and the Law Society:
Mark Beattie JP, the Magistrates’ Association’s national chair, expressed concern over the report’s findings and called for further investigation into the causes of these disparities. He acknowledged the complexity of bail decisions, which involve multiple agencies and factors, but stood by the overall efficacy of magistrates’ rulings.
Nick Emmerson, president of the Law Society, highlighted the critical role of early representation for defendants to navigate the intricate and life-altering proceedings of their cases. He advocated for increased investment in criminal defence to ensure adequate representation for all individuals in need.
The report recommends practical measures to ameliorate these issues, such as providing magistrates with detailed information on alternatives to remand and expanding the Bail Information Service to facilitate the setting of appropriate bail conditions. These steps aim to foster a more equitable and transparent bail system, acknowledging the weight of pre-trial decisions on the lives of defendants.