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Question

281. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice the extent to which changes in the bail laws has resulted in a reduction in the number of persons on criminal charges being released on bail when compared with the pre-legislative period; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [51944/21]

Answer

Minister for Justice (Deputy Heather Humphreys): As the Deputy is aware, the decision to grant bail in a particular case is a matter for the presiding Judge, who is independent in the exercise of his or her judicial functions. There is also a constitutional presumption in favour of the granting of bail as, under Irish Law, a person is presumed innocent until proven guilty.  The presumption that a person is innocent until proven guilty has traditionally been considered by the courts to prohibit pre-trial detention except where it appeared that the accused person, if released on bail, was likely to evade justice by absconding or interfering with witnesses or evidence.
In the light of concerns at the increase in the incidence of offences committed while on bail, a referendum took place in 1996 on a proposed amendment to the Constitution to allow the courts to refuse bail where there are grounds for believing that the accused will commit serious offences while on bail. The referendum was passed and section 2 of the Bail Act 1997 gave effect to this constitutional amendment which 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.
The Criminal Justice (Burglary of Dwellings) Act 2015 and the Criminal Justice Act 2017 amended the Bail Act 1997 to make further provision in respect of the criteria to be considered in refusing bail. The 2017 Act strengthened the operation of the bail system with the aim of making the law as effective as possible in protecting the public against crimes committed by persons on bail.
Under the Act, the Court is required to have regard to persistent serious offending by an applicant for bail and the nature and seriousness of any danger presented by the granting of bail to a person charged with an offence that carries a penalty of 10 years’ imprisonment or more.  It is also open to judges to refuse bail for a serious offence where that is reasonably considered necessary to prevent the commission of a serious offence.
Where an accused person is granted bail, the 2017 Act provides for stricter bail terms for repeat serious offenders, including the use of curfews and strengthens Garda powers to deal with breaches of bail.  If an individual fails to comply with any of the bail conditions, the judge will issue a bench warrant. This gives An Garda Síochána power to arrest and bring the person before the court to answer all charges relating to the bail.  In the event of a breach of High Court bail, an application is made to the High Court for a warrant and once arrested the defendant must be brought before the High Court as soon as practicable for a revocation hearing. A breach of bail may also result in an additional charge. The judge may also make an order and/or surety for ‘forfeiture and estreatment’ of the bail money.
I can inform the Deputy that I am advised by Garda authorities that the amended bail laws have proven to be effective and have assisted An Garda Síochána in tackling the threat of organised crime.