New measures aimed at "toughening up" the bail system have been unveiled by the Scottish Executive.
Mr McConnell promised harsher penalties for those who skip bail
First Minister Jack McConnell told the Labour conference in Brighton people had "lost confidence" in the system.
He said the executive would introduce a system that set out the factors which counted against granting bail.
The maximum sentence for breaching bail would be quadrupled to a year under the proposals, which have been welcomed by police chiefs.
Mr McConnell said: "People in Scotland are sick to the back teeth of hearing about crimes committed by people who are out on bail.
"They are fed up with trying to fathom why courts release some people on bail even when they have got a track record of offending.
"They can't tolerate people on bail not turning up at court and not being properly punished when they eventually do."
Mr McConnell promised that judges considering whether to grant bail to someone accused of serious violent offences, sexual offences or drug dealing would be compelled to take previous similar convictions into account before making their decision.
Drug treatment and testing would be made available for the first time as a condition of bail, he said.
The executive would also raise the maximum sentence for those who breached bail conditions from three months to one year, Mr McConnell said.
Other measures include:
- Ensuring that sheriffs and judges have to state the increase in sentence for those who offend while on bail
- Ensuring that sentences for those who fail to appear at court are served after the sentence for the original offence and not at the same time
- Introducing a provision for trial in absence in non-jury courts when an accused fails to appear without good reason
- Ensuring that each accused has their bail conditions and the consequences of breach clearly spelled out to them.
Mr McConnell said the new system would be more "transparent" and would properly punish those who abused the system and "our trust".
In serious cases, the accused's first appearance in court is in private and the reasons for bail being granted or denied are not made public.
A Scottish Executive spokesman said this would continue to be the case but that an explanation for the sheriff's decision at the first hearing may be given later in the process after the accused had been convicted or cleared.
The proposals will form part of the Summary Justice Reform Bill which will be introduced to parliament next year.
Lord advocate consulted
A spokeswoman for the Crown Office, which brings prosecutions, said the Lord Advocate Colin Boyd QC, the senior law officer in Scotland, had been consulted on the development of the bail policy.
The case of the Livingston schoolboy Rory Blackhall, 11, became the centre of the bail debate after it emerged that the man believed to have murdered him was on bail at the time.
Figures show that the number of people breaching bail in two of Scotland's major police force areas has more than tripled over the last five years.
The number of breaches in Strathclyde and Lothian and Borders rose from 1,107 in 1999 to 3,604 in 2004.
President of the Association of Chief Police Officers in Scotland, chief constable David Strang, welcomed the executive's announcement, saying it sent out a "strong message" that bail breaches would be dealt with more seriously.
Police believe the court process will be speeded up
"The proposals will help to improve the administration of justice and will contribute to cases being progressed through the courts more speedily," he said.
"The power for the police to impose bail conditions when an accused is released on an undertaking to appear in court will be a valuable additional safeguard for the public."
Scottish National Party justice spokesman Kenny MacAskill said the changes fell short of ensuring public safety and he called for "root and branch review" of the bail system.
He said "We need immediate action so that those charged with serious offences are not released on bail.
"But we also need a long-term review of the overall bail system which has been brought into disrepute, lost the confidence of the people and is granted inappropriately to serious offenders and breached with impunity by minor offenders.
"We need comprehensive reform, not announcements filled with rhetoric rather than real change."
The Conservatives warned that the moves to beef up bail rules were likely to be hampered by the European Convention on Human Rights which has been incorporated into Scottish law.
The party's justice spokeswoman, Annabel Goldie, said: "It has given people charged with serious crimes far more rights than they had before.
"Traditionally under Scots law, the judge exercised a very important duty.
"It was one of discretion and it balanced the rights of victims, family and safety of the public with the position of the accused.
"The judge was free, without any other intervention, to make a commonsense decision on what was appropriate."