SNP plans to reduce number of prisoners held on remand labelled an 'insult to victims'

SNP plans to limit the refusal of bail to those who pose a significant risk to the public or who are likely to deliberately miss their trials have been labelled an “insult to victims” by the Scottish Conservatives.

Other powers included in the Scottish Government’s Bail and Release from Custody Bill include the ability to unilaterally release scores of prisoners in the event of a serious emergency, such as a pandemic or another event that would leave prisons unusable.

Ministers said the new Bill would shift the focus of the release of prisoners to rehabilitation and reintegration, with more support for those leaving prison.

However, the Conservatives said the “reckless” Bill would “risk endangering public safety”.

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If the Bill is passed by MSPs, it is likely to result in a reduction in the number of prisoners being held on remand in Scottish jails.

New legal limits on the test for when refusing bail is appropriate will restrict judges’ ability to refuse bail to a limited set of circumstances.

This will include whether refusing bail is in the interests of public safety and whether release would prevent a significant risk of prejudice to the interests of justice due to the possibility of the accused individual deliberately missing their trial.

The number of people held on remand has skyrocketed in recent years.

Ministers are also seeking to see the release of prisoners on Fridays or the day before public holidays banned to improve the level of support available to newly released prisoners.

Justice secretary Keith Brown said the Bill was an “important step” for the Government in its attempts to change the justice sector.

He said: “We know that short-term imprisonment in particular disrupts families and communities, adversely affecting health, employment opportunities and housing – the very things that we know prevent reoffending.

“This Bill recognises prison will always be necessary for the most serious cases, but we need to look again at how custody is used. The Bill sets out proposals which will refocus the use of remand and support the rehabilitation and reintegration of people leaving custody, for example through improved release planning and support.”

However, Scottish Tories justice spokesperson Jamie Greene criticised the Bill, claiming it would impact public safety due to the number of crimes committed by those on bail.

He said: “This reckless Bill is designed to empty Scotland’s prisons at a time when violent and serious crime is rising. It risks endangering public safety and frankly is an insult to victims of crime.

“As well as giving SNP ministers sweeping powers to release prisoners early without parliamentary scrutiny, a blanket move to increase the number given bail is complete madness.

“In the past three years more than 30,000 crimes were committed by offenders on bail. That’s one in eight of all crimes, including 29 murders or homicides."

The MSP added: “Many respondents in the Bill’s consultation wanted to see automatic early release ended altogether – as we do. Nicola Sturgeon once vowed to do this too, but clearly has no intention of doing so now.

“This Bill is further proof of the SNP’s ‘soft-touch’ approach to justice at a time when they should be getting tougher due to rising violent crime levels.

“Once again we see legislation which seems to serve the needs of offenders and ministers rather than victims.””

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