541. Deputy Bernard J. Durkan asked the Minister for Justice and Equality when it is expected that the bail laws will be amended, in line with modern requirements; and if she will make a statement on the matter. [20841/15]
Minister for Justice and Equality (Deputy Frances Fitzgerald): The drafting of the General Scheme of a Bail Bill to modernise the law on bail is at a very advanced stage in my Department. I intend to bring proposals to Government on the matter in the near future.
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.
While the primary aim of the proposed Bail Bill is to consolidate and update bail law, I wish to take the opportunity in this legislation 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 proposals 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.