Page last updated at 14:39 GMT, Monday, 11 August 2008 15:39 UK

Tories plan to tighten bail laws

Helen Newlove: 'I felt utterly sickened'

People with previous convictions for the most serious offences should be routinely denied bail, the Tories say.

Shadow justice secretary Nick Herbert wants more persistent offenders in England and Wales to be kept locked up.

The party also believes there should be a strong presumption against granting bail to people charged with murder.

It comes a year after Garry Newlove was kicked to death outside his home by a gang, whose ringleader had been released on bail earlier that day.

The government says there are already stricter bail conditions for those charged with the most serious offences.

Public safety

The Conservatives also want stronger enforcement of bail conditions, including a new offence which could lead to imprisonment.

Mr Herbert says government figures show 47.6% of those who breached their bail terms got a fine. In 2006, that averaged at 61.07.

"We think that public safety should be an explicit consideration in bail decisions, which it isn't at the moment, for clarity and public confidence," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"There's a presumption that you will get bail. We don't want to take away the right to bail altogether - we think that would be wrong.

"But if you are on a murder charge, the most serious charge; if you have previously been convicted of one of the most serious offences or if you are a very persistent offender, if you have breached bail in the past, then the presumption should be that you should not get bail.

"The court would still be able to judge that there are exceptional circumstances and give you bail, but the presumption should be that you should not and I think most people would think that is reasonable."

Not 'fair'

But Sally O'Neill QC, who chairs the Criminal Bar Association, rejected the Tory plans as unworkable.

"I can understand that, instinctively, it sounds very sensible," she told Today.

"But, in fact, when you consider it on a practical basis it is not really going to work in any way which is either fair or, I think, sensible as far as public safety is concerned."

The number of people who jump bail or breach their conditions have dropped dramatically
Bridget Prentice
Justice Minister

Justice Secretary Jack Straw has already announced a review of bail laws after a series of high-profile cases.

They include the murder of Garry Newlove by Adam Swellings, who was on bail after being convicted of assault and police inspector Gary Weddell, who killed his mother-in-law while on bail for murdering his wife.

He later killed himself.

Helen Newlove, Garry's widow, said the bail system was not working and the release of Swellings had been "utterly disgraceful".

"This government is playing with people's lives. At the end of the day they're letting people get killed or injured and not having a second thought because it's not personally affecting them," she told the BBC.

The Ministry of Justice said stricter bail criteria for the most serious offenders and those who have breached conditions in the past had already been introduced.

Justice Minister Bridget Prentice told the BBC: "The number of people who jump bail or breach their conditions have dropped dramatically over the last few years so there is progress being made, but of course we are always looking to make more progress on that."

She said the consultation on bail laws finished on 12 September and they would be looking "in detail" at the issues that arose from that.

Paul Cavadino, chief executive of crime reduction charity Nacro, said an application should be turned down only when a "clear case has been made out to overturn the bail presumption".

Murder case bail ban 'problems'
17 Jun 08 |  UK Politics
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18 Mar 08 |  Beds/Bucks/Herts

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