Members of the Scottish Parliament’s Criminal Justice Committee were split on whether the Bail and Release from Custody (Scotland) Bill should continue through Holyrood.
It comes as a report by the committee on the legislation said that organisations such as Women’s Aid and Rape Crisis Scotland must be given “necessary reassurances” from ministers over the planned changes.
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The SNP MSPs on the committee, Fulton MacGregor, Rona Mackay, Audrey Nicoll, and Collette Stevenson, all agreed to the general principles of the legislation.
However, Labour MSP Katy Clark and Tory MSPs Russell Findlay and Jamie Greene did not, as they believed there was “a lack of sufficient explanation about the bill’s intended purpose and effects”, as well as how it would be delivered.
Pauline McNeill, Scottish Labour MSP, said the legislation should only proceed “if Ministers address the issues outlined by Members not supporting the general principles”.
Part of the legislation would see the repeal of current laws which means bail can only be granted in exceptional circumstances in serious cases of violent, sexual or domestic abuse, where the accused person has a previous conviction for such crimes.
But the committee noted that organisations representing the victims of crime were “not convinced” by this.
Giving evidence, Scottish Women’s Aid stated that this could allow “convicted repeat and serial abusers of domestic abuse, including those who have perpetrated sexual assaults against women and who present a particular danger to women’s safety” to be granted bail.
The organisation added: “Given women’s experiences of abusers being given bail, women need as much protection as the law can afford them.”
Meanwhile, Rape Crisis Scotland told the committee it had “significant concerns” at the removal of “an important safeguard”.
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MSPs said that as “organisations representing the victims of crime are not convinced by the repeal”, the Scottish Government “must have dialogue with them to provide the necessary reassurance regarding the impact of the repeal”.
The bill aims to change the way remand is used by the courts, so accused people are only sent to prison ahead of a trial where they pose a risk to public safety.
It also looks at the release arrangements for prisoners, with the aim of improving the rehabilitation and reintegration of offenders back into the community.
With social workers being given an enhanced role in cases where bail is being concerned, some councils expressed concerns that the Scottish Government has under-estimated the resources required for this.
SNP convener Nicoll said: “The Bill would make a number of changes to the bail and release system in Scotland and it is fundamental that the rationale for these changes is made clear, and that detail of how these changes will be delivered and resourced is outlined.
“It’s now up to Parliament as a whole to decide whether this Bill proceeds.”
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Tory justice spokesman Greene, one of the three MSPs who were opposed to the Bill, said the “highly critical” committee report “makes it clear that victims are once again an afterthought for the SNP government”.
Greene argued: “The Bail and Release Bill as it stands risks letting out thousands of criminals who pose a serious threat to the public by tying the hands of judges in their decision making.
“Organisations representing victims made it clear to the justice committee that narrowing the grounds for bail will inevitably lead to more criminals being freed to reoffend and traumatise victims.”