We welcome the Committee’s report and are pleased to see that many of our concerns and recommendations have been acknowledged and put forward, including the urgent scaling-up of court-based Bail Information Services (BIS); increasing suitable bail accommodation, including for women; strengthening alternatives to remand and improving prosecutors’ communication of remand decisions, so bail can be reapplied for.
We also welcome the Committee’s focus on some of our members’ important work, such as JUSTICE, Prison Reform Trust, Transform Justice and Women in Prison.
Urgent scaling up court-based Bail Information Services (BIS)
We told the Committee that there is inconsistent provision of Bail Information Services (BIS) in courts, despite them being a vital service for reducing the number of people being remanded into prison. If more proactive court-based BIS were available, prosecutors could address any concerns they may have with BIS staff, which are causing them to oppose bail and rely on remand.
To reduce the number of people entering custody on remand, we recommended the urgent scaling up of court-based BIS and proactive bail support schemes, so that they are routinely available to provide bail packages in all magistrates courts. The Committee agreed and recommended that:
‘We heard evidence that there needed to be greater availability of such services in courts in order to help prepare bail packages and address any concerns prosecutors may have which were causing them to oppose bail.… The Criminal Justice Alliance recommended the urgent scaling up of the service so that officers were routinely available to provide bail packages in all magistrates’ courts… We recommend that the outcomes of the current pilot relating to these services are published, and that the service should then be scaled up so that it is available in all magistrates’ courts if it is proven to help in putting together effective bail packages.’ Paragraph 129 and 132
Increasing suitable bail accommodation for women
Our members told us that Bail Accommodation and Support Services (BASS) was inconsistently available: in some areas, defendants were remanded due to there being a lack of bail accommodation space, while in other areas, there is a lack of referrals. Women often cannot access suitable bail accommodationdue to its location, and there are often limited spaces for women.Werecommended more bail accommodation is made available for women. The Committee agreed and recommended:
‘The problem of bail accommodation is particularly acute for women, as they often cannot access suitable accommodation owing to the distance of approved premises from their homes, as well as there often being more limited spaces available for women… The Government should look at ways of expanding the accommodation offer [for women] and emphasise the use of alternatives such as electronic tagging if suitable accommodation is not available.’ Paragraph 136 and 139
Strengthening magistrates’ confidence in alternatives to custody
We told the Committee that sentencers’ lack of knowledge and confidence in alternatives to custody have led to an overuse in remand. For the use of conditional bail, Bail Accommodation and Support Service (BASS) and Women’s Centres to increase, it requires prosecutors and courts to have confidence in their effectiveness. Members told us that sentencers do not see the ‘success stories’ of those not swept into prison (for example, those defendants who are not remanded and as such, can move away from crime).
‘The Criminal Justice Alliance told us that alack of knowledge of and confidence in alternative measures was leading to an overuseof custodial remand…Custodial remand should only be used for those who are not suitable foralternatives, such as conditional bail or electronic monitoring. Greater engagement isneeded between the Ministry of Justice and the Judiciary on the alternatives currentlyavailable to custodial remand. The Government should ensure that judges andmagistrates are aware of the proven effectiveness of these alternatives in order to instilconfidence and to increase their usage.’Paragraph 113 and 116
Challenging remand decisions
Members told us that the grounds for withholding bail are often not appropriately applied and guidance is not properly followed. We highlighted this to the Committee, as well as research from an academic on our Remand Expert Group which shows that judges have often made poorly reasoned decisions to remand defendants or regularly do not provide any reasons for their decisions to remand; where reasoning is given, it is often brief, generic and lacking in detail. The failure to provide adequate reasoning makes it more difficult for the defence to address any of the court’s concerns in a follow-up bail application. We therefore recommended that magistrates set out their reasons for remand decisions in full and are recorded.
‘In its submission to our inquiry, the Criminal Justice Alliance, a network of 180 organisations working across the criminal justice system, outlined its belief that remand custody decisions of magistrates were not being adequately explained: ‘Research shows that sentencers do not regularly provide reasons for their decisions to impose custodial remand; where any reasoning is given, it is often brief, generic, and lacking in detail. During nearly 60% of court hearings observed by researchers, sentencers provided no reasons for the decision to withhold bail and remand a defendant in custody’…
Magistrates are required to communicate their remand decisions to the parties in open court; however, we have heard that this is not always done in a way which is understandable to the parties involved. Pronouncement templates for magistrates should be reviewed to ensure they are as clear as possible for those being sentenced and their use should be monitored to ensure they are being used consistently.’ Paragraph 39 and 44
The CJA calls on the government to fully accept all the Committee’s recommendations and for the urgent scaling up of court-based BIS. The CJA and our Remand Expert Group look forward to working with Government officials, ministers and parliamentarians to support this.
Our Remand Expert Group informs CJA’s work on reducing remand. The Expert Group is made up of members working within criminal courts and sentencing as well as academics and former magistrates.