HL Deb 27 April 1987 vol 486 cc1348-50WA
Viscount Dilhorne

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they have completed their inquiries into the circumstances which led, in a recent case, to the grant of bail to Mr Winston Silcott.

The Earl of Caithness

On 28th May 1985, Winston Silcott was committed in custody for trial at the Central Criminal Court, on a charge of the murder of Anthony Roy Smith. On 31st May 1985, Silcott successfully applied for bail. He was later convicted of the murder, on 6th October 1985, of PC Blakelock. I understand that he has appealed against that conviction. He has also been convicted of the murder of Smith.

The bail application on behalf of Silcott was heard in chambers, and no contemporaneous record is available. This is unsatisfactory. In the absence of such a record, it is impossible to be sure of the detailed circumstances which led to the granting of bail. In particular, it is not entirely clear how closely the court addressed the possibility that the applicant might commit further offences while on bail, or what information the court considered concerning his character, antecedents, associations and community ties.

Decisions on bail are among the most difficult which a court has to take. In 1985, 22 per cent. of those committed for trial were committed in custody, including 88 per cent. of those charged with murder. Nineteen per cent. of the prison population are now unconvicted, which is double the percentage seven years ago.

We have considered whether procedural or administrative changes are desirable in the handling of bail applications. The Crown Prosecution Service now has responsibility for making representations in respect of all applications for bail in criminal proceedings. With the agreement of my right honourable and learned friend the Attorney-General, arrangements are now in hand for ensuring that guidance to the Crown Prosecution Service includes the clearest possible instructions on best practice in dealing with bail applications. In addition, my noble and learned friend the Lord Chancellor intends to ensure that increased attention is given to bail in judicial studies and magisterial training. As to court procedure, there are sound reasons why the details of a bail application should not be made widely known to the public. The Government are not so far persuaded that bail applications to the Crown Court ought ordinarily to be made in open court. But clearly there is a strong case for requiring that there should be a record of bail proceedings where appropriate. Arrangements will be made for this to be done in suitable categories of case.

We have also looked at the balance which the Bail Act strikes between the need to protect the interests of unconvicted defendants and the need to ensure, so far as possible, that such defendants do not commit offences or subvert the course of justice while awaiting trial. We have considered whether to bring forward proposals during proceedings on the Criminal Justice Bill now before Parliament for amendment to the provisions of the Bail Act governing the granting of bail. The balance of the Bail Act will be kept under continuous review but we have considered that it would be a mistake to seek to alter that balance as a result of the Silcott case.