SNP’s Bail Bill could result in “astonishing” reduction in criminals’ jail time

By Bill Heaney

The Scottish Government’s “deeply flawed” Bail and Release Bill needs more scrutiny from MSPs or risks failing victims of crime, Scottish Labour has today warned.

Later today, MSPs will vote on the SNP government’s Bail and Release Bill – with business extended into the night in an attempt to get the bill through before recess.

Concerns have been raised over the ability of MSPs to scrutinise this bill due the decision to have a single lengthy debate rather than bringing it to the chamber on sequential days.

At the same time, the Bill has come under fire from victims’ rights organisations – particularly over concern about potential impact on victims of gender-based violence – and the legal profession.

Scottish Labour is warning that the rush to pass the bill risks enacting flawed legislation that will fail victims and burden the legal profession for no obvious benefit.

Scottish Labour justice spokesperson Pauline McNeill, pictured right, said: “This bill is a significant and complex piece of legislation that demands scrutiny from all MSPs.

“Despite this, the decision to rush through this bill before recess risks enshrining flawed legislation.

“Time after time, my colleague Katy Clark MSP raised concerns over aspects of this bill – and shockingly her warnings have gone unheeded.

“Victims’ rights organisations and members of the legal profession have been clear about the many flaws that this bill has – but so far the government has failed to decisively address them.

“Ministers have struggled from the bill’s introduction to explain exactly what they expect it to achieve. That they are unable to do so at this late stage is unacceptable.

“This bill cannot be yet another rushed SNP bill that fails to deliver for the people of Scotland.”

Meanwhile, the Tories say that the SNP’s latest “soft-touch” justice policy could see an “astonishing” 40,000 days’ worth of prison time being cut from criminals sentences every year.

A Freedom of Information response to the Scottish Conservatives exposes how “illogical” the SNP’s Bail and Release from Custody Bill – which is to be debated in Parliament next week – will prove this  in reality.

The new law will, for the first time ever, give judges the power to reduce a criminal’s sentence by calculating how long they have spent on electronically-monitored bail before conviction and halving that figure.

The FOI response confirms that during 2022-2023 – the first year the electronic monitoring was introduced – 683 accused offenders were subject to this type of bail. On average, they spent 120 days on monitored bail, giving an overall figure of 81,960 days spent on monitored bail last year.

If all of those accused offenders received a custodial sentence, then this new bill would enable judges to cut 40,980 days – or 112 years – from criminals’ collective prison time annually.

SNP MSP Colette Stevenson brought forward an amendment at Stage Two of the bill’s proceedings to remove this section, saying she had “huge concerns” about the proposal, before back-tracking and voting against her own amendment.

Shadow justice secretary Jamie Greene has now brought back an amendment ahead of next week and is urging MSPs from all sides to back his changes and remove these “dangerous plans” from the bill.

He added that the SNP will “tie the hands of judges” in decision-making and that this new law risks letting thousands of criminals out on bail and free to offend again. 

Scottish Conservative shadow justice secretary Jamie Greene MSP, said: “The Bail and Release from Custody Bill is the latest prime example of the SNP’s soft-touch justice in action.

“These latest revelations show how the needs of criminals are once again being put above those of victims. It is truly astonishing that over 40,000 days’ worth of prison time could be cut from serious offenders’ sentences annually as a result.

“Even SNP MSP Colette Stevenson raised huge concerns at the committee about these illogical proposals, before losing her bottle and voting against removing it from the bill.

“I am determined to stop these dangerous plans – which will see the SNP tie the hands of judges in decision-making – and provide an incentive for criminals to delay their sentencing whilst on bail to reduce their sentence.

“This Bill is the latest SNP insult to victims. The Scottish Conservatives have already exposed how thousands of offences are committed each year by people out on bail. The SNP are planning to let thousands more out to commit similar crimes in our communities.

“There is still time for MSPs on all sides to see common sense and back my amendment to stop the cutting of criminals’ sentences.”

The SNP’s new bail bill will reduce criminals’ sentences by deducting time spent on electronic monitoring from prison sentences. Under the SNP’s new Bail and Release from Custody Bill, when a judge issues a custodial sentence, if the offender has spent time on electronically monitored bail then the judge can reduce a criminal’s custodial sentence by the amount of time the offender spent on electronically monitored bail, divided by 2. (Bail and Release from Custody Bill,  8 June 2023, link).    

This could lead to 40,000 days’ worth of prison time being cut off criminals’ sentences. The Scottish Government confirmed that during 2022-23, the first year that new electronically monitored bail was introduced, 683 accused offenders were subject to this type of bail. On average, these offenders spent 120 days on electronically monitored bail. This means this category of offenders spent approximately 81,960 days on electronically monitored bail in 2022-23. If they all ended up convicted with a custodial sentence, under the terms of the Bail and Release from Custody (Scotland) Bill, this would allow judges to deduct a collective 40,980 days from these offenders sentences. (Scottish Government FOI response, attached, 2 June 2023).     

The SNP voted against one of their own amendments which would have removed this proposal from the Bill. At Stage 2 of the Bail and Release from Custody Bill, SNP MSP Colette Stevenson proposed an amendment which would have removed from the Bill this section which allows judges to deduct from a criminal’s sentence one day for every two that the criminal spent on electronically monitored bail. Colette Stevenson admitted she had ‘huge concerns’ about this proposal, but then decided to vote against removing it from the Bill. (Official report, 10 May 2023, link).

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