Straw defends bail judges

The lord chancellor last night defended the independence of the judiciary after a series of attacks from politicians and the media over controversial bail decisions.

Jack Straw said courts must be free to take bail decisions based on the information in front of them and free from outside interference and criticism.

In a speech to the Parole Board, Mr Straw said judges face “desperately difficult” decisions but “overwhelmingly” make the right one.

He was speaking after MPs called for two separate inquiries into why two people freed on bail went on to kill.

This week it emerged 19-year-old Adam Swellings, convicted of the murder of Garry Newlove, had been bailed ten hours before the fatal attack in Warrington.

Mr Newlove’s MP, Helen Jones, has now called for a Commons debate on bail conditions, while his widow Helen Newlove said the government had failed to provide an effective deterrent against youth crime.

Controversy has also been sparked over a judge’s decision to bail police officer Garry Weddell after he had been charged with his wife’s murder. It is thought Weddell went on to murder his mother-in-law before taking his own life.

The family’s MP Mike Penning raised the decision in the House of Commons and Gordon Brown agreed it was necessary to ask why Weddell had been released on bail.

But Mr Straw last night said courts sometimes attract “the opprobrium of the press, the public and on occasion politicians”.

He continued: “They do not deserve, however, this criticism”.

The lord chancellor, who is obliged to protect the judiciary’s independence, said bail decisions are conducted to “a very high standard.

He called for a “better appreciation of the care and professionalism” judges and parole boards show.

Mr Straw said: “The decision as to whether to grant bail to a defendant is always a difficult one for judges and magistrates. These must be independent judicial decisions based on the law as it is, and they do so to a very high standard.

“I appreciate, of course, that none of this will comfort Mr Newlove’s family or those affected by the actions of Garry Weddell. Our thoughts and prayers are with them.”

It was reported yesterday that information from Weddell’s bail hearings will be released.