Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the efforts that continue to be made to combat recidivism, with particular reference to crime committed while on bail, more than once; the extent to which resources are available to combat this trend; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7570/15]
116. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the number of occasions on which crime was committed by those on bail in the past six years to date, by category of crime; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7571/15]
117. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality the extent to which the law on bail continues to be abused by the criminal fraternity; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [7572/15]
Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): I propose to take Questions Nos. 115 to 117, inclusive, together.
Tackling recidivist and prolific offending is a key focus for An Garda Síochána and the criminal justice system generally. Garda operations such as Operation Fiacla identify and target prolific offenders and arrangements are in place for the case management of such offenders so that all relevant information is co-ordinated by An Garda Síochána and available when such persons come before the courts.
The Deputy will also be aware that both the Probation Service and the Irish Prison Service work through a variety of programmes to address offending behaviour and to promote desistance from future criminal activity. In this regard my Department has published two studies on recidivism rates for offenders who were given a community sanction or a custodial sentence in recent years. The findings of these reports, and it is hoped future studies on recidivism rates, provides invaluable information to both the Probation Service and the Irish Prison Service in identifying the interventions that are most effective in changing offending behaviour.
In relation to bail, the Deputy will be aware that a decision to grant bail in a particular case is a matter for the court, which is, subject only to the Constitution and the law, independent in the exercise of its judicial functions. There is a constitutional presumption in favour of bail because, in the eyes of the law, a person is innocent until proven guilty. The provisions of the European Convention on Human Rights also restrict the extent to which the right to bail can be limited.
Prior to the Sixteenth Amendment of the Constitution, bail could be refused essentially only on the grounds that the accused person would be likely to abscond or interfere with witnesses or evidence. Section 2 of the Bail Act 1997, which gave effect to the Sixteenth Amendment of the Constitution, permits the courts to refuse bail to a person charged with a serious offence where refusal of bail is reasonably considered necessary to prevent the commission of a serious offence by that person. A "serious offence" is an offence listed in the Schedule to the Bail Act that is punishable by at least five years imprisonment.
Section 11 of the Criminal Justice 1984 as amended by section 22 of the Criminal Justice Act 2007 provides that any sentence of imprisonment for an offence committed while on bail shall be consecutive but if imposed in the District Court the aggregate term of imprisonment shall not exceed two years.
As regards reform of the bail laws, I can inform the Deputy that the preparation of the General Scheme of a Bail Bill to modernise the law on bail is at a very advanced stage and I intend to bring proposals to Government on the matter in the coming weeks.
While the primary aim of the proposed Bail Bill is to consolidate and update bail law, I wish to take the opportunity to seek, as far as is possible, within the constraints of the Constitution and the jurisprudence of the European Court of Human Rights, to focus the legislation on the protection of the individual and of the public. The intention is that the new provisions will provide better guidance to the courts on how such protection might be provided. The new Bill will seek to improve the operation of the bail system and make the law as effective as possible in protecting the public against the commission of offences by persons on bail.
In relation to the information sought about crimes committed while on bail, I have asked the Central Statistics Office, as the national statistical agency responsible for the publication of crime statistics, to provide relevant information directly to the Deputy.