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Tuesday, 14 December, 1999, 04:40 GMT
Human rights warning on UK bail laws

Courtroom - generic Fears that new rules could spark flood of claims against courts

Bail laws in England and Wales may need to be relaxed to comply with European human rights rules, the government's law reform advisers are warning.

The Law Commission says that unless the law is changed, magistrates and judges could leave the courts open to a flood of compensation claims from defendants in criminal cases who are wrongly denied bail.

One of the major areas of concern involves current rules on suspects charged with serious crimes of murder, manslaughter and rape.

The commission says that a clause stating such defendants should only be given bail in "exceptional circumstances" if they have previously been convicted of the offence, should be dropped.

However this has raised fears that people regarded as liable to commit serious offences would no longer be held in custody while awaiting trial.

The European Convention on Human Rights was incorporated in to English and Welsh law last year and comes into effect in October.

Under it, people will be able to enforce their human rights under the European Convention without having to go to the European Court in Strasbourg.

Defendants 'pigeonholed'

And for the first time, those who are wrongly detained by a court will be entitled to claim compensation from the government.

The Law Commission's report recommends that judges and magistrates be given training in the new legislation to prevent a flood of claims.

A spokesman for the Lord Chancellor's Department said: "We welcome the paper. It identifies potential problems at an early stage.

"Several million pounds is being spent to ensure all judges and magistrates will be fully informed by October 2000."

Commissioners are also concerned that breach of bail conditions or being arrested while on bail should not see a defendant automatically remanded in to custody.

They also call for courts to avoid "pigeonholing" defendants, and for magistrates court forms to be redesigned so JPs can no longer simply tick a box stating the reason bail has been refused.

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See also:
15 Nov 99 |  Scotland
Euro-ruling hits court cases
29 Nov 99 |  UK
Prosecutors given appeal option
06 Nov 99 |  UK
Criminal courts 'under scrutiny'
19 Oct 99 |  Guide to the UK Government
Lord Chancellor's Department
09 Oct 99 |  UK
Law chief's fears over courts reform

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