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.

2 Scheme availability and uptake

2.1 When data was requested from supervised bail schemes in 2009, the majority of Local Authorities (LAs) had a bail supervision scheme in place, many of them shared across LAs. However, some of these had experienced a very low uptake over the previous three years. There were some LAs where schemes were in development, and a small handful had no scheme in place.

2.2 According to the data provided by the schemes, there had been a very slight decrease in overall numbers of bail supervision orders countrywide over the financial years 2007-08 through to 2008-09. This was despite an increase in funding being made available in January 2008. However, much of this overall decline could be attributed to the Glasgow City Council scheme, which had experienced notable decline in recent years. Possible reasons for this decline are explored below. The numbers across the three years for all other schemes show no clear pattern beyond slight fluctuations, of the kind which would be expected from year to year.

2.3 Since this analysis was undertaken, national level data has been published which shows that there was a further drop in numbers of supervised bail orders between 2008-09 and 2009-10, which was a continuation of a downward trend since 2006-07, though there was a slight increase between 2009-10 and 2010-11 (Scottish Government 2010). Table 1 below shows that the drop between 2006-07 and 2010-11 was largely in the two criminal justice areas with the highest volume of supervised bail orders - Glasgow, and Fife and Forth Valley.

Table 1 - supervised bail orders commenced by criminal justice area

Criminal Justice Area
Number of bail orders commenced
2004/05 2005/06 2006/07 2007/08 2008/09 2009/10 2010/11
Fife & Forth Valley 315 329 261 212 253 158 163
Glasgow 261 321 247 242 143 107 45
Lanarkshire 7 21 57 23 8 24 84
Lothian & Borders 57 88 74 69 56 73 58
Northern 37 56 8 19 47 60 75
North Strathclyde 0 6 2 1 0 1 0
South West Scotland 30 29 63 46 37 29 26
Tayside 91 67 70 117 39 29 47
Scotland 798 917 782 729 583 481 498

Source: Criminal Justice Social Work Statistics: Courts and Bail -

2.4 Only seven of the schemes supplied a 'capacity' figure, either in terms of maximum number of supervised bail orders they could manage a year, or maximum number of orders at any one time. Of these schemes, only two were operating at over 50% capacity.

2.5 The survey of the judiciary explored possible drivers of this decline in uptake and apparent under-use of capacity. It revealed that some Sheriffs were not aware of the bail supervision schemes in their area. Overall, however, Sheriffs who responded were largely positive about supervised bail, whether they knew there was a scheme in their area or not. However, they also emphasised that supervised bail was only suitable for a specific kind of 'borderline' case.

2.6 This suggests that lack of 'buy in' may not be an issue6 among the judiciary, but both awareness of supervised bail and prevalence of potential supervised bailees may both have an influence on uptake of the service. As identification of such 'borderline' cases depends on many factors, it would be difficult at best to estimate the number of potential supervised bail cases going through the criminal justice system.

2.7 On the other hand, while some PFs surveyed were positive about supervised bail, others were more sceptical or did not know much about it. There was mixed experience of receiving updates on supervised bail, and mixed views on the utility of these or the need for improved communication with bail workers, though some felt it was important for potential bail reviews. This suggests that work could be done to raise awareness amongst PFs about the potential of supervised bail and their role in the smooth running of a supervised bail scheme (see below), and also to increase their level of 'buy in' to the aims of supervised bail and its value.

2.8 Bail workers in the workshop reported that awareness of the availability of supervised bail was essential among the judiciary, defence agents, the police, and PFs. It was felt that personnel change, especially among police and PFs, meant that it was difficult to maintain awareness of supervised bail, and that it was difficult to maintain regular dialogue with PFs and the judiciary as social work did not have a high enough profile. To combat this it was suggested that regular presentations and meetings with police, PFs, judiciary, and defence agents were essential.

2.9 Possible reasons, then, for the decline in uptake of supervised bail and under-use of capacity include:

  • lack of awareness about supervised bail amongst the judiciary and other professionals involved in the supervised bail screening process, such as defence agents and PFs;
  • lack of 'buy in' to supervised bail by the judiciary and other professionals involved in screening; and
  • the size of the pool of potential supervised bailees (those deemed as 'borderline' remand cases by the judiciary);
  • issues around the screening process for potential supervised bailees (see the next section).


Email: Carole Wilson

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