Belfast Telegraph

Editor's Viewpoint: Public safety must be priority in bail cases

In today's newspaper we reveal that more than 30,000 suspected crimes have been committed during the past three years by people who were on bail at the time.

There were nearly 30 offences each day, and some of these included murder, rape and robbery. Others were linked to arson and rioting and, significantly, to the intimidation of witnesses.

The statistics associated with these offences are horrifying. They included eight murders, 52 attempted murders, 102 rapes, 15 kidnappings, 13 cases of rioting and 175 robberies.

Despite these disturbing revelations, it is important to remember that a cornerstone of our judicial system is the presumption of innocence, namely that the defendant in a criminal case is presumed innocent until found guilty.

Courts will therefore tend to look favourably on bail applications where there is no reason to believe that the defendant will commit further offences, or pose a flight risk, or is likely to intimidate claimants or witnesses.

In doing so the courts are maintaining a tradition that dates back to the Emperor Justinian in the 6th century.

More recently, the presumption of innocence has been defined as a "human right" under Article 11 of the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

While it is entirely proper that no defendant should be arbitrarily denied liberty, the statistics which we reveal today are an indication that there is something wrong with the system.

The sheer number and range of offences, and the serious nature of the crimes committed, simply cannot be overlooked, not only by the police and the professionals within the system, but also by the public.

People are entitled to ask if the tests for the likelihood of committing further offences, or interfering with complainants or witnesses in a court case, are sufficiently rigorous. Are the courts being presented with enough evidence by police or prosecutors on which to base their determinations?

Nevertheless, the presumption of innocence remains a cherished legal principle, but so too is the continued need for public safety.

There is a widespread public perception that in many cases bail is being granted too readily, and that the pendulum has swung too far in the defendants' direction, at the expense of the victims.

Given our thought-provoking revelations today, it is hard not to have some sympathy with that view.

Belfast Telegraph

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