Bail (Amendment)

– in the House of Commons at 5:05 pm on 28th June 2011.

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Motion for leave to bring in a Bill (Standing Order No. 23)

Photo of Andrew Stephenson Andrew Stephenson Conservative, Pendle 5:07 pm, 28th June 2011

I beg to move,

That leave be given to bring in a Bill to confer upon the prosecution a right of appeal against judges’ decisions to grant bail;
and for connected purposes.

The prosecution’s right of appeal in bail cases currently applies only to bail granted by a magistrates court. I present this Bill in response to the murder of my constituent, Jane Clough. Jane was murdered on 25 July last year by her ex-partner Jonathan Vass, who was out on bail at the time despite a series of charges having been brought against him. Jane Clough, a 25-year-old accident and emergency nurse, was murdered by Jonathan Vass in the car park of Blackpool Victoria hospital just before she was due to start her shift at work. On 14 October last year, Jonathan Vass was sentenced to a minimum of 30 years in jail, but the failure of the justice system before that trial is the reason that I am bringing forward the Bill today.

Jane’s murder occurred while Jonathan Vass was on bail following a series of charges for previous crimes that he had committed against Jane. He had been charged with nine counts of rape, and with four counts of common assault and sexual assault against her. By murdering Jane, Jonathan Vass ensured that the only witness to his crimes could not testify against him. Jane had displayed great bravery in going to the authorities to report the abuse that Jonathan Vass was subjecting her to while she was pregnant with their child. Like many victims of domestic violence, she put her faith in our legal system, but our legal system failed to protect her. Before granting Jonathan Vass bail, Judge Simon Newell was advised by the police and the Crown Prosecution Service that he should not grant bail due to the severity of the crimes with which Jonathan Vass had been charged. However, Judge Newell failed to provide Jane with the necessary protection from a man who posed a real danger to her.

In a statement made by the Judicial Communications Office following Jane’s murder, it was said that Judge Newell was acting within the bounds of the Bail Act 1976, working under the general assumption that bail should be granted in all cases except in specific circumstances. The statement went on to say that the judge was not told of any of Jane’s concerns and that no evidence was presented to make him aware that Jonathan Vass would go on to commit further crime, having been seen as a paramedic with previous good character—a statement that Jane’s parents and the Crown Prosecution Service would strongly contest.

The law needs to be changed to allow the prosecution a right of appeal, so that in such a case the CPS or the Attorney-General could have challenged Judge Newell’s verdict. We need to rebalance the legal standing of bail verdicts. At the moment, the system is unfairly weighted towards the defendant. Even if Jonathan Vass had been denied bail, he would have been able to appeal that decision almost indefinitely, whereas the prosecution currently has no right of appeal to judge-made bail decisions. Even if my right hon. and learned Friend the Attorney-General wanted to appeal the granting of bail to Jonathan Vass, he could not have done so.

We can all see from the murder of Jane that the warnings given to the judge by the police and the CPS should have been heeded. Jonathan Vass’s history of offences towards Jane should have persuaded Judge Newell that he posed a serious threat to her, which would only escalate once she had reported him to the authorities. The bail conditions applied to Jonathan Vass provided Jane with little protection from any retaliation. In her diary, Jane wrote of her fear that Jonathan Vass would break bail and come for her and her daughter, that he would do something to hurt her and that nothing would stop him once he was released. While Jonathan Vass was free, Jane became a prisoner in her own home: the doors were always locked; she was afraid to go anywhere alone. Jane was scared for her own and her daughter’s safety from the moment she heard that Jonathan Vass had been released. Effectively, the wrong person had been locked up.

It is my opinion that the Bail Act 1976 should be amended to provide more protection for victims of crime such as Jane Clough. If Jonathan Vass had not been granted bail on the 13 charges against him, he would have been able to appeal the decision—a luxury not currently afforded to the prosecution. The amendment I propose would not only give the right of appeal to the prosecution, but give victims and their families more influence over the legal process.

I imagine that many of us here today know of many other legal proceedings where victims and families of victims have felt they had little knowledge or influence over what was being decided. We need to give victims of crime, and particularly of domestic violence, the reassurance that their voices will be heard and that their abusers will not be able to intimidate or hurt them.

The problem appears to be widespread in our legal system. The most recent figures I have been able to find were released in 2009 under the Freedom of Information Act and show that in excess of 30,000 crimes were committed by suspects who were on bail at the time. Most disturbingly, at least 27 murders were among those statistics. Although bail decisions will never be easy to make, surely those figures are a cause for alarm.

At the time that those figures were released, my right hon. and learned Friend was quoted in The Daily Telegraph, making the point that the legal system is set up in such a way that bail is too readily given and too weakly enforced. He went on to say that it was shocking that so many serious crimes were committed by people awaiting trial and that the Government must put public protection first. I hope that as Attorney-General he is still committed to that, as my Bill would empower him or the CPS to challenge bail decisions that are clearly wrong.

By allowing the prosecution to appeal against bail decisions, we will make sure that judges can be held accountable for the decisions they make. Even the best judge will not get every decision right and surely there should be a safeguard for when a decision is made that clearly looks ill-advised or incomprehensible. Making such a change would also protect the rights and freedoms of victims of crime and their families. As I previously mentioned, Jane became a prisoner in her own home. It strikes me as totally unacceptable that Jonathan Vass was allowed to roam free, while Jane lived under the constant shadow of her tormentor and rapist. I have received support from across the House from more than

50 MPs who want to see this issue addressed. We must ensure that victims of crime are protected from further punishment.

The murder of Jane Clough has highlighted several issues in our legal system that need to be addressed. The case raises questions relating to the accountability of judges, the granting of bail, the treatment of victims of rape, and sentencing policy. I pay tribute to John and Penny Clough, who are in the Public Gallery today, to their friends and family, and to all who are working with them to ensure that there is justice for Jane. They have shown tremendous courage in fighting not just for their daughter but, as they would put it, for all the other Jane Cloughs out there.

I commend the Bill to the House.

Question put and agreed to.

Ordered,

That Andrew Stephenson, Esther McVey, Heather Wheeler, Robert Flello, Mrs Madeleine Moon, Bob Russell, Lorraine Fullbrook, Paul Maynard, Hugh Bayley, Tracey Crouch, Jackie Doyle Price and Lorely Burt present the Bill.

Andrew Stephenson accordingly presented the Bill.

Bill read the First time; to be read a Second time on 20 January 2012 and to be printed (Bill 210).