Inspection of the operation of bail and remand in NI published

CJI Chief Inspector Jacqui Durkin has called for called for consultation to be undertaken on legislative reform to improve the bail and remand system in Northern Ireland.
“The operation of bail and remand are essential parts of the criminal justice system as police, prosecutors and the Courts progress criminal cases, balancing the needs of victims and witnesses and the safety of the public, with the rights of defendants to a fair trial and their cases being dealt with in a reasonable time,” said Ms Durkin.

The inspection highlights how current legislation is out-of-step with neighbouring jurisdictions in the United Kingdom and Ireland, and how long people accused of committing an offence are remaining on bail or in prison on remand before they are convicted and sentenced or acquitted.
“Victims are left waiting and too often are not kept informed of changes made to bail conditions or case progress.  Court lists and Judicial, Court staff, prosecutor and defence time and costs, are spent dealing with recurring bail and remand hearings,” said the Chief Inspector.
“At the same time our prisons are dealing with high numbers of men and women, neither convicted nor sentenced, some who are with them for long periods while others are in and out in a few days if they get bail,” said Ms Durkin.

With Northern Ireland having one of the highest rates for remaining people in custody in Europe – with figures double compared to England and Wales, Ms Durkin said the current position was becoming increasingly difficult to justify.

Inspectors have also called for gaps in information about the use of bail and remand and its analysis to be addressed to support effective monitoring and inform decision making, help address inefficiencies, increase governance, and improve the use of valuable police and prison resources.

The Chief Inspector has also appealed for movement on the longstanding proposal to introduce a Bail Act for Northern Ireland to provide greater levels of consistency and certainty around bail law. 
“The need for a Bail Act for Northern Ireland was first recommended by the Northern Ireland Law Commission a decade ago,” said Ms Durkin. 

“We accept there have been competing legislative priorities and three years without an Assembly in the intervening 10 years.  However, based on the evidence gathered in this Inspection and our assessment of it, we recommend the DoJ should go further than its proposed changes to legislative provisions for the operation of bail for children and young people and undertake a public consultation on more-wide ranging, ambitious reforms to bail for all defendants to inform the legislative programme in the next Northern Ireland Assembly mandate.

"We all know that the prolonged absence of an Executive and legislature has a significant impact on many areas of much needed reform.  But another decade cannot slip by as we fall yet further behind other jurisdictions and opportunities to improve the operation of the bail and remand system to better support the criminal justice system in Northern Ireland are lost,” concluded the Chief Inspector.