Belfast Telegraph

The conditions of bail should be no holiday

Editor's Viewpoint

Contrary to public belief, there is a presumption in favour of bail for anyone charged with a criminal offence in Northern Ireland. In other words, the prosecution must convince the judge that the accused may flee or interfere with the course of justice or commit further offences, or are at risk to themselves or from others, or pose a risk to the preservation of public order, if bail is to be refused.

Simply being accused of a very serious offence is not a reason in itself for declining to release anyone on bail.

Therefore it is no surprise that Damien McLaughlin, who faces four charges in relation to the murder of prison officer David Black, is at liberty until his trial.

Obviously working under the guidelines for granting bail, the courts had decided his was a suitable case for release.

But what does grate with the public is the fact that bail conditions have been altered to allow the accused to enjoy a spa break at a Co Fermanagh hotel. That, no doubt, will be an enjoyable break for him, but many will wonder if it is in keeping with his past behaviour while on bail.

On the first day of his release he was seen at the forefront of republican anti-internment protests in west Belfast, which also contained several convicted terrorists.

He also took part as a steward at a dissident republican march in Coalisland.

These are activities which ordinary members of the public would justifiably feel should be out of bounds for people on bail and awaiting trial on serious charges.

But his case is not unique. Another man accused in connection with the killing of another prison officer has been granted bail again after twice failing to observe the terms under which he was released. Once he claimed to have fallen asleep and therefore turned up late to report to police, and the other he breached a curfew time because he had difficulty getting a taxi home from an entertainment venue. A man charged with encouraging acts of terrorism has had his bail terms altered to allow him to go on holiday to Donegal.

In the public's mind bail should be reserved for major events like a family funeral, wedding, christening or serious illness. That is obviously not the case, yet public perception and expectation cannot be ignored. Justice must retain the confidence of the public, and bail conditions being altered for what seem trivial reasons do not readily gain public support.

Belfast Telegraph


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