Supervised Bail in Scotland: Research on Use and Impact

This report outlines findings on the use and impact of supervised bail in Scotland from a research project which included analysis of operational data, economic analysis, a workshop with bail workers, surveys of the judiciary and Procurators Fiscal, and interviews with people who have been on supervised bail.

1 Background

1.1 Supervised Bail in Scotland is a social work or third sector service1 whereby those who would otherwise be put on remand are released on bail on the condition that they meet with a bail supervisor a specified number of times a week (usually two or three)2 . The aim of this is to support bailees to comply with bail conditions, including attending court and not offending while on bail, thereby enabling them to remain in the community while awaiting trial. On an individual level this aims to avoid the disruptive experience of a period of remand, and give bailees support to deal with any problems they may have, and at a system level it aims to reduce the prison population.

1.2 Supervised bail was initially piloted in Glasgow and Edinburgh from 1994. Its aim was to reduce the number of people on remand, while providing support to bailees to address the risk of offending on bail.

1.3 Following an evaluation of nine months of the pilots (see McCaig & Hardin 1999), funding was made available across Scotland, which areas could choose to use for bail supervision, or for bail verification schemes, which confirm addresses for potential bailees. As a result, bail supervision was not introduced in all Local Authority areas3 .

1.4 Research commissioned by the then Scottish Executive in 2004 on bail/custody decisions for females described a general consensus among judges interviewed that bail supervision "was an effective tool with some accused" (Brown et al 2004: 27). Many of the study's respondents also felt remand numbers could be reduced by increased funding of bail schemes (Ibid: 31), however the study also found that there was a lack of awareness amongst judges and prosecutors about services provided by social work and the third sector.

1.5 A comprehensive evaluation of supervised bail for young offenders (also including bail information and accommodation) in England and Wales was undertaken in 2002. It found that the majority of those supervised adhered to their supervision order, nearly all attended their court hearing, and completing supervised bail could encourage the implementation of a community sentence rather than a custodial one (see Thomas 2005).

1.6 The operation and impact of supervised bail in Scotland has not been examined since the evaluation of the pilots in 1999. This report outlines the findings of a phased project designed to address this gap. The project focused on issues around uptake of bail supervision, its impact on the justice system and on the lives and behaviours of supervised bailees.


1.7 This report draws together the findings of the different elements of this work. These were:

  • Analysis of data on supervised bail schemes: case level data covering three financial years was requested from all Scottish supervised bail schemes in 2009, and analysed to examine uptake, use of capacity, targeting, breach and outcomes.
  • A workshop with bail workers from schemes across Scotland: Bail supervision schemes were invited to send representatives to a workshop hosted by Scottish Government policy officers, at which good practice and barriers to supervised bail use were discussed.
  • Surveys of the Judiciary and Procurators Fiscal: An electronic survey was emailed to all Sheriffs and Judges, and a separate one to Procurators Fiscal, asking about their awareness, experience, and views on supervised bail.4
  • Interviews with people who have been on supervised bail: Qualitative interviews were undertaken with a small sample of people who had recently been on supervised bail. These interviewees were recruited through supervised bail schemes.5
  • Economic analysis of supervised bail: All available relevant data were used to undertake a cost benefit analysis of supervised bail as an alternative to remand.

1.8 From these five strands a rounded picture of the operation and impact of supervised bail in Scotland emerges. We now turn to these findings, beginning with an examination of the availability and uptake of supervised bail across Scotland.


Email: Carole Wilson

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