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Under Bail, Under Scrutiny: Nearly 900 Sexual Offences Highlight Court System Failures and Government Neglect



Close to 900 sexual crimes perpetrated by individuals released on bail have been reported, with advocacy groups alerting to the 'catastrophic effects of dysfunctional courts.' Additionally, legal experts are criticizing the government for "a fundamental breakdown in fulfilling a primary responsibility”—that is, safeguarding its citizens—as prolonged judicial delays potentially allow those on bail to continue committing crimes over long stretches.

Politics correspondent @NifS

Thursday, May 16, 2024, 8:

Between 2020 and 2022, nearly 900 sexual offenses were recorded as being perpetrated by individuals who were released on bail, data from the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) reveals.

A Freedom of Information inquiry conducted by Sky News revealed that over the past three years, the total number of incidents reached 887, showing a yearly increase. The data indicated there were 184 incidents in 2020, escalating to 326 in 2021, and rising further to 377 in

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Sky News was denied early access to the 2023 data prior to the release of extensive crime statistics set for Thursday morning. They have been instructed to file a new FOI request, which will delay the disclosure of the data by at least 20 days.

Nonetheless, the data suggests that the total number of incidents might have surpassed 1,000 across the four-year span.

Charitable organizations and legal experts have expressed concerns that the significant delays in court hearings for individuals on bail are a "catastrophic result" of a "dysfunctional" judicial system. This situation potentially leaves these individuals vulnerable to committing further offenses for prolonged durations.

The data follows allegations that, as an urgent response initiated on Wednesday to address the issue of prison overcrowding, individuals considered "lower risk" might be granted police bail without needing to appear before a court. This comes amid numerous bail hearings being postponed due to concerns that defendants, if ordered to be held in custody, would not have available prison cells.

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A source from the Ministry of Justice informed Sky News that the choice to release an individual rests with the police, not as a directive from the ministry.

Due to the utilization of police cells to accommodate inmates in densely populated regions—a crisis measure activated recently—there may be a need to create additional space.

Stay informed on the latest developments from the UK and globally by tuning into Sky News.

The head of The Survivors Trust, a nationwide group aiding services for rape and sexual abuse victims, expressed that individuals assaulted by those out on bail feel abandoned by the government.

"Fay Maxted expressed to Sky News that there is often significant apprehension concerning that event occurring. She noted that numerous survivors [of sexual offenses and other crimes] report them with the aim of safeguarding others.

"They aren't motivated by vengeance, but rather by a desire to improve things and create a safer environment for the community."

"It's truly disheartening to discover that the individual you reported is still free and moving around in the community."

Explore further: Should judicial systems operate around the clock to address case delays? 'It felt as though I was the one being judged' – the personal toll of courtroom delays.

Ms. Maxted attributed many of the problems to court system delays, which resulted in extended bail periods and "led to numerous disastrous outcomes."

"Individuals may be interrogated and subsequently granted bail, facing a possible one to two years before their court appearance," she stated. "This is truly intolerable. Currently, our system is in a state of disrepair."

"I often wonder if people fully understand the effects of sexual violence and abuse – how it can affect someone's health and well-being for their entire life."

The head of the charity's worries were echoed by the Criminal Bar Association, which stated that the numbers indicate a "systemic failure" by the government to address delays in the courts.

Research conducted by the group highlighted the increasing duration of rape trials involving defendants out on bail, noting an 80% increase over five years. The time from charge to conclusion now averages about 18 months. Additionally, court dates are currently being scheduled as far out as the summer of 2026 for cases that were charged last year or are expected to be charged early in 2024.

Tana">kin KC, who leads the Criminal Bar Association, informed Sky News that the instances of sexual offenses perpetrated by individuals awaiting trial for other charges surged by over 100% from 2020 to 2022.

"This points to a fundamental breakdown in fulfilling a basic governmental responsibility to safeguard all citizens from danger."

She highlighted the insufficient funding for criminal barristers needed for both prosecution and defense, noting that this deficit impedes the quick processing of cases in court. She warned that without adequate resources, there would be severe repercussions: innocent individuals might struggle to prove their innocence, and those guilty could potentially commit more offenses while on extended bail.

Ms.">kin noted: "A long history of insufficient funding for criminal justice professionals responsible for prosecuting charged offenses has tangible effects on defendants, witnesses, complainants, and victims, as well as their families, who are all affected by the prolonged delays in our criminal court system."

The Survivors Trust is advocating for sexual offense cases to be heard in a court that includes a panel of judges and civilian advisors, aiming to assist and expedite the process for victims. Ms. Maxted is of the opinion that this change could also reduce the frequency of crimes committed by individuals out on bail.

"It's important that trials are fair," she emphasized. "There must be a system in place that allows everyone to have their say."

"Currently, we are exposing victims and communities to risk, and the data clearly supports this."

"What more must an individual do to demonstrate they are a threat to the community if they commit another crime after being arrested, released on bail, and then reoffending?"

Stay ahead with the latest breaking news updates.

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According to data obtained by Sky News through a Freedom of Information request, the Ministry of Justice reported 7,693 violent crimes, including assaults and homicides, committed between 2020 and 2022 by individuals who were out on bail.

The report also documented an additional 17,243 instances of theft, 1,137 cases of robbery, and 411 occurrences of criminal damage and arson.

The statistics are likely to be a source of shame for a department already facing criticism for its management of both the judiciary and the correctional facilities.

In addition to the modifications to bail hearings detailed earlier, government officials have mandated the release of inmates serving less than four-year terms up to 70 days prior to their scheduled release date starting this month, amid forecasts that facilities housing male prisoners may reach capacity by June.

At the Prime Minister's Questions session, Rishi Sunak stated that individuals considered a danger to the public or those who have committed serious crimes would not be released.

However, the Labour Party charged that he had deceived the Commons, citing new findings from the chief inspector of prisons which revealed that certain released inmates posed a "risk to children" and had backgrounds of "stalking, domestic abuse, and being subject to a restraining order."

Sky News has reached out to the Ministry of Justice to request a statement.

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