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COVID-19: New Bail Information Service to assist courts during the pandemic

HM Prison & Probation Service (HMPPS) and the National Probation Service (NPS) have implemented a new Bail Information Service for adults, which aims to provide and verify the necessary information to assist courts in making decisions about conditional bail.

Details

 The Bail Information Service has been implemented as the issue of bail is particularly relevant during the COVID-19 pandemic. It seeks to assist those courts who remain open during this time to identify eligible defendants who may be suitable for conditional bail. A Bail Officer will assess the defendant and complete either an oral or written Bail Information Report, but cannot make recommendations on the imposition of bail as such. The Bail Officer will be able to consider a number of conditions when assessing a suitable bail package.

The service will be available, where access to the defendant is possible, for Magistrates’ and, on request, for Crown Courts. It can also be requested by the defence or CPS where considered beneficial in deciding on bail. Bail information reports can be can be provided in 30 minutes on average for non-BASS services and in up to 2.5 hours for any bail assessment requiring BASS or other accommodation referral.

New specific duties include to:

  • Interview the defendant, assess risk to the public and eligibility for bail conditions
  • Liaison with the defendant’s family, home owner, Domestic Abuse Units, Child Protection Services and/or Liaison and Diversion Teams and complete any referrals as required
  • Conduct referrals to Nacro BASS (or similar) if accommodation is required;
  • A checking service with Home Office Immigration to confirm legal status of Foreign National Offenders (if requested)
  • Complete a bail information report

 HMPPS makes a commitment to “proactively target and provide a bail service to those individuals with ‘protected characteristics’ to ensure that vulnerable people (incl. those with mental health issues, homeless), women, BAME, and young adults are ensured a bail service.”

Bail information service

Commentary

 This is an important service for young adults, particularly those who committed offences as children but had the misfortune of turning 18 by the time the matter reaches court. Defendants aged 18 and above are no longer eligible for bail support from a Youth Offending Team (YOT). Bail officers will now be able to fill this gap through this new service, by providing a report that explores objections to bail, as well as verify the suitability of potential bail conditions; liaising with defendants, their families and other services; and make referrals to bail accommodation services.

The service will be available “where access to the defendant is possible”. In light of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and the impact this has had on both court and prison services, many bail applications are being dealt with virtually and access to defendants may be limited.