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.

4 Targeting

4.1 We turn now to the targeting of supervised bail. There are two levels of targeting of supervised bail. Primarily, as mentioned above, its is aimed specifically at 'borderline' cases where the individual would have otherwise been remanded. There is also a secondary level of targeting where, according to National Guidance on supervised bail produced in 2008, supervision should be prioritised for certain 'vulnerable' groups, namely "those with mental health problems, women accused, single parents, drugs misusers and young people aged between 16 and 21" as well as others "who would suffer extreme difficulties if remanded to custody" (Scottish Government 2008: 2)8 .

4.2 One of the aims of this research was to ascertain whether there was any 'net-widening' in regards to supervised bail; in other words, whether supervised bail was indeed only ever used as an alternative to remand, and not in cases where an accused would have otherwise been released on standard bail conditions. It was found that some net-widening does occur, but that it is likely that it is quite rare. So, for example, all but one of the ten bailees interviewed were very clear that they would have been remanded if they had not been given supervised bail9 , and in the survey responses from members of the judiciary, only one respondent seemed to advocate its use in cases with vulnerable accused where remand was not being considered.

4.3 It is important to note that, for the bailees interviewed who did think that they would otherwise have been remanded, this had a big influence on how they evaluated supervised bail and its impact on their life. For some this was expressed by relief that they had not been in a prison cell awaiting trial, with all the disruption to their lives that this brings, and were instead out in community where they could maintain family relationships, employment and/or education. For others there was also a feeling that being released on supervised bail was a 'second chance' or a 'last chance', which they should not squander by breaching. This seems to be particularly useful with those who had previously breached regular bail. Some bailees who were interviewed talked about having previously breached regular bail, or an electronic tag, but then stated with some pride that they had never breached supervised bail, or missed a single meeting.

4.4 On the other hand, one bailee who was interviewed was not sure what would have happened if she had not been on supervised bail because she had no basis for comparison She described supervised bail as embarrassing, and went elsewhere for psychological support. For this bailee, supervised bail was simply one aspect of a larger experience with the criminal justice system which she felt was disproportionate and which she found deeply distressing. Whether this was a case of net-widening or a case where the remand alternative was not made clear, it shows that supervised bail may not be as effective without the comparison to prison. This is particularly likely to be the case for those with no previous experience with the justice system, who may then be more likely to see it as punitive and stigmatising, than as a source of support.

4.5 On the secondary level of targeting - of vulnerable groups - comparison of supervised bail data with remand and 'persons proceeded against' statistics seem to show that targeting of bail supervision at females and young people was being borne out in practice, with a larger proportion of supervised bailees being young or female, than with those who had been remanded, or the wider population of those with a charge against them10 . Members of the judiciary responding to the survey unanimously agreed that supervised bail should be targeted at young people, and most were supportive of it being targeted at single parents and carers, and those with mental health problems. Respondents were equally split over whether it should be specifically targeted at women, most felt it should not be considered for drug misusers, and the majority felt that it should not be limited to these groups, rather it should depend on the individual circumstances of the case.

4.6 It is clear, then, that it is crucial that supervised bail is used as an alternative to remand and is understood to be so by supervised bailees. Caution should be used when considering its use with first time accused. Supervised bail appears to be targeted at some of the 'vulnerable groups' identified by the guidance, such as young people and carers, but it is also clear that members of the judiciary look more to the circumstances of the case than to whether a potential bailee belongs to any particular demographic group. And so, this 'secondary' level of targeting is perhaps less useful, especially in the light of low uptake of supervised bail, as it would only be in the context of high demand for the service where particular groups within the population of 'borderline cases' could usefully be prioritised. This is one of the reasons why the wording of the guidance has since been changed (see footnote 7 on page 8).


Email: Carole Wilson

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