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Pre-Trial Bail Services in Scotland: An Evaluation of Two Pilot Bail Information and Accommodation Schemes - Research Findings

DescriptionThis evaluates two pilot projects which were designed to provide independently verified information relating to the personal circumstances of bail applicants which would assist bail decisions.
ISBN
Official Print Publication Date
Website Publication DateDecember 24, 1998
Social Work Research Findings No. 1 (1994)
Pre-trial Bail Services in Scotland: An Evaluation of two Pilot Bail Informationand Accommodation Schemes
The research evaluated two pilot projects in Lothian and Strathclyde which were designed to provide independently verified information relating to the personal circumstances of bail applicants which would assist bail decisions.
Main findings
The evaluation found that the schemes had facilitated the granting of bail to accused persons who would otherwise have been remanded in custody in 19% of the cases in Edinburgh Sheriff Court and 29% in Glasgow Sheriff Court.
There was no greater incidence of alleged bail abuse among accused people who were released on bail on the basis of positive information provided by the bail officers than among those granted bail but for whom positive information was absent or irrelevant.
Those on bail who were 25 years or older and who had no convictions in the previous three years were found to present a low risk of being charged with further offending whilst on bail.
The research showed that the costs of producing bail information reports in Glasgow and Edinburgh were broadly comparable. The schemes did not result, overall, in appreciable cost-savings to the criminal justice system, for a number of reasons. However evidence was found that they decreased the cost of court appearances by reducing: the time per case spent in court; and the need for the cost of overnight remands.
Good working relationships with courts users (such as fiscals, sheriffs and defence agents) were shown to be essential both in the planning of bail services and their operation.
Effective liaison arrangements with other service providers enhanced the reliability and credibility of schemes.
There was evidence that better targeting of cases could be achieved when adequate information was provided by fiscals about the cases for which bail was to be opposed.
Background to the study
The Bail etc. (Scotland) Act 1980 was introduced with the aim of reducing the number of accused persons remanded in custody. During the 1980s the remand population in Scottish penal establishments continued to rise coupled with an apparent increase in the number of offences committed by persons on bail.
Two pilot bail information and accommodation schemes were introduced in Scotland in 1991. Offering a service to Edinburgh and Glasgow Sheriff Courts the schemes provided independently verified information on the circumstances of people detained in police custody whose bail was likely to be opposed by the fiscal. Where appropriate the schemes also attempted to find suitable accommodation. By doing so the schemes aimed to increase, in appropriate cases, the use of bail for accused who might otherwise have been remanded in custody.
The study
The main objectives of the study were: to evaluate the effectiveness of the information and accommodation services provided by the schemes in Lothian and Strathclyde; to assess the impact of the schemes on the remand decisions of the courts; and to establish the relative costs of bail services and custodial remands.
The research team monitored all cases dealt with by the schemes for a 9 month period in Edinburgh and for a 5 month period in Glasgow (due to the later start of this scheme). The impact of the schemes was assessed by: interviewing key agents in the criminal justice process including sheriffs fiscals and defence agents; and analysis of court records. The costing of bail services and custodial remand included analysis of time diaries completed by bail staff during one week and analysis of the financial accounts of bail schemes.
Monitoring the schemes
The monitoring of the schemes found a number of differences in their organisation and operation.
In Edinburgh the information and accommodation roles were undertaken by different staff in different locations. However in Glasgow the two bail officers each had responsibility for the provision of information and finding accommodation.
The nature of the information in bail reports also differed. In Edinburgh reports were submitted even if it had not been possible to verify information or if the information which had been verified was disadvantageous to the accused. By contrast in Glasgow only positive verified information was submitted.
The impact of the schemes
The research found that 19% of bail interviews in Edinburgh and 29% in Glasgow had resulted in the granting of bail to accused persons who would otherwise have been remanded in custody. Monitoring of court outcomes before and after the introductions of the schemes suggested that there had been a slight increase overall in the use of bail, a slight decrease in custodial remands and, in Edinburgh, a more noticeable decrease in the percentages ordained to appear for sentence or trial. However, in neither Edinburgh nor Glasgow did there appear to have been a change in the percentages granted bail as opposed to being remanded in custody. As bail information reports were submitted in only a small proportion of cases, the impact of these reports on the relative use of bail and custodial remands could not be readily discerned against the total volume of cases dealt with by the custody courts.
Bail abuse
A number of factors were identified by the research which were best able to predict whether or not an accused would be charged with a bail offence. These were: age; the number of previous bail offences; and the number of previous convictions for offences involving dishonesty. Accused aged 25 years or over who had no convictions in the previous 3 years presented the lowest risk of being charged with further offending whilst on bail. Offenders under the age of 25 years with several previous convictions for bail abuse and/or offences involving dishonesty presented the highest risk. There was no evidence however that the incidence of alleged bail abuse was higher among accused persons for whom positive information might have been a significant factor in the granting of bail than among those who were granted bail and for whom positive information about community ties was absent or irrelevant.
Responses to the schemes
Sheriffs and fiscals in Glasgow agreed that the scheme had made a valuable contribution to the work of the court. They considered that the scheme had been effective in reducing unnecessary remands, in particular when accommodation was an issue. However in Edinburgh views were more mixed with some reservations being expressed about whether bail services could have a significant impact on the numbers of accused persons remanded in custody. Defence Agents in both courts were generally supportive of the schemes though some expressed concern about their lack of control over the contents of bail information reports.
Costs of the schemes
The cost of producing bail information reports was broadly comparable in Edinburgh and Glasgow. However the costs of the accommodation service were markedly higher in Edinburgh. The discrepancies in the accommodation costs may be accounted for in part by the different staffing arrangements in the schemes (the bail officers in Glasgow jointly spent less time on accommodation work than did the bail accommodation officer in Edinburgh) and by the availability in Glasgow of relatively cheap emergency accommodation for bailees.
The bail information and accommodation schemes did not result overall in appreciable cost savings to the criminal justice system. In Glasgow, for example, the presence of the bail scheme was associated with extra costs averaging at about £100 per case. This was largely a consequence of the longer pre-trial period for bailees than for custodial remands and because the scheme increased the proportion of people on bail and using bail accommodation. Nevertheless evidence was found that the availability of a bail scheme decreased the costs of court appearances (by reducing the time per case spent in court) and the costs of overnight remands (by reducing the need for them).
Sue Warner and Gill McIvor
Pre-trial Bail Services in Scotland: An Evaluation of two Pilot Bail Information and Accommodation Schemes the research report summarised in this Research Findings, may be purchased (priced £5.00 per copy).
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