murder bail consultation
Murder Bail Proposal Would Not Have Stopped Homicide
1 October 2008 pr034.08
Proposed changes to the Court’s right to deny bail would not have stopped a policeman suspected of murder going on to kill again this year, according to legal body, the Institute of Legal Executives (ILEX).
Rights and conditions of bail aroused public interest following tragic events in January when Gary Weddell, an ex-police officer, was released on bail despite allegedly murdering his wife. Whilst on bail Weddell murdered his mother-in-law, before killing himself. In light of the case, the Ministry of Justice has issued proposals for changing the bail rules for defendants charged with murder.
Speaking on the proposed bail changes for suspected murders, ILEX Law Reform Officer, Gus Ghataura said: “The various proposals for a change in law detailed in this government consultation would not have prevented Weddell being released on bail and so would not have affected the sad outcome of this particular case. This begs the question, why change?”
“Bail is an issue of overriding importance. If it is denied, the liberty of the accused, which is of paramount importance, is forfeited before they are found guilty. However it is of course important to find the right balance between preserving the rights of the accused and the protection of the public from dangerous offenders.“
ILEX does feel however that adding a ‘public safety test’ to the current bail criteria may be helpful. For example, bail could be denied if a court was satisfied that the defendant may pose a risk to public safety. Public safety could be defined as placing one or more persons at risk of, or in fear of, physical or mental harm.
Despite the government’s review of bail for murders, it is widely recognised within the legal community that Weddell case was not typical; bail was granted based on a psychiatrist’s report and the prosecution brought no evidence that Weddell would commit an offence, abscond, or interfere with witnesses whilst on bail, currently the three main grounds for refusing bail. In the event, he did all three. Instead the ‘very borderline’ decision to grant bail was based purely on whether Weddell was merely a danger to himself.
In the ILEX response to the government Mr Ghataura concludes: “The Ministry of Justice has rightly recognised that the Weddell case has caused considerable disquiet. Given the facts of the case, one cannot criticise the presiding judge in any way. However, if further considerations were contained in the Bail Act, such as the public safety criteria we suggest, they may have tipped the balance against the granting of bail in this case.”
- At present, bail is denied if the court is satisfied that there are substantial grounds for believing that the person:
- Will fail to surrender to custody; or
- Commit an offence while on bail; or
- Interfere with witness or otherwise obstruct the course of justice (Bail Act 1976 Schedule 1, part 1.)
- Bail can also be refused if the court is satisfied that the defendant should be kept in custody for his/her own protection.