I beg to move,
That leave be given to bring in a Bill to confer upon the prosecution a right of appeal against decisions to grant bail; to reverse the presumption in favour of bail in certain cases; to make other provisions relating to bail; and for connected purposes.
I am very glad that my hon. Friend the Minister of State, Home Office, is able to be in the Chamber this afternoon.
This is the second time that I have sought to change the criminal law. Having practised at the Bar for 15 years, I take particular interest in these matters. In 1987, I wrote a pamphlet which was published by the Bow Group and which urged Parliament to give the Attorney-General a right of appeal against over-lenient sentences. I was very glad that this was enacted in section 36 of the Criminal Justice Act 1988, and I trust that the Bill for which I seek leave today will receive similarly favourable treatment from Parliament.
My Bill seeks to amend the law because our constituents are seriously concerned about offences which are being committed by people who have been arrested and then released on bail by magistrates. We read about such cases every week in our newspapers. The largest number of such cases relate to burglaries of dwellings and car thefts and it is the same group of people who are committing the same type of offence again and again. But the problem exists even in the most serious cases.
Hon. Members will recall with deep sadness and regret that Mrs. Anna McGurk was recently raped and murdered in Gloucester by a man who had already been arrested by the police for rape and had been let out on bail by magistrates, against the objection of the police. The House should take particular note of the fact that the murderer had been required by the magistrates to reside in a bail hostel as a condition of his bail.
My Bill would seek to make two changes to the law. First, it would give the prosecution a right of appeal to a judge where bail had been granted by magistrates against police objection. At present, the police can do nothing except watch the arrested man walk out of court. For police officers who spend their lives apprehending criminals on our behalf and at great personal risk, that must be very demoralising. If the situation were reversed, and bail had been refused, the arrested man could apply to a judge for bail. My Bill would redress the balance in these matters between the defence and the prosecution.
The Scots are ahead of us in this matter, as in many things; it is already possible for the prosecution there to appeal if bail is unreasonably granted, and we should have the same rule in England and Wales.
Secondly, my Bill would reverse the burden of proof in the case of persons who had already been convicted of committing an offence in the past 10 years, while on bail. I believe that those people have forfeited the trust that bail implies. I do not say that they should not get bail at all, but it should be for them to prove that they should be given bail, rather than for the police to prove that they should not.
It may be argued that my Bill would increase the prison population and the cost of the prison service. I believe that it can be argued, however, that gaol is cheaper than bail. Bail hostels are not cost-free, and it is certainly not cost free to allow such persons to be at liberty to rape and murder our constituents, to burgle their houses and to steal their cars.
It is the very first duty of any Government to protect their citizens not only from external attack but from internal attack by criminals within our country. I trust that this Government will discharge that duty.
In the interests of protecting all our constituents from crimes committed by persons on bail, I seek leave of this honourable House to bring in the Bill.