Published Wednesday, 06 March 2013
The Lord Chief Justice stressed the importance of judges being impartial. (© UTV)
Earlier this week, in the wake of the arrests of leading members of the Ulster People's Forum over recent protests, DUP First Minister Peter Robinson met with PSNI Chief Constable Matt Baggott.
Mr Robinson claimed that the unionist community perceived a lack of balance because they saw "several leading republicans getting bail and several leading members of the loyalist community not getting bail".
Mr Baggott responded by insisting that prosecutions and bail decisions are "made independently by the PSS and judiciary against very stringent criteria".
On Wednesday, a letter was sent to the Justice Committee - chaired by DUP MLA Paul Givan - from the office of the Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan.
In it, Sir Declan's private secretary explained that the Lord Chief Justice had noted the recent press coverage about bail hearings and requested that the process surrounding decisions be outlined.
The cornerstone of our justice system is that judges are independent and impartial in the decisions they make.
Lord Chief Justice's Office
The letter went on to explain that judges must consider whether granting bail means there will be a risk of the accused not turning up for trial; whether further offences could be committed; whether the course of justice could be interfered with; and whether public order was at risk.
Other factors considered include - but are not limited to - the strength of the evidence against the accused, any previous criminal record, and the seriousness of the charges.
"If conditions can be attached to the grant of bail that will cater for the risk, the court is obliged to release the person on bail," the letter added.
"If those conditions are broken, then the bail will be reconsidered and can be revoked."
Sir Declan's private secretary also outlined his belief that the criminal justice system should be administered in public and subject to public scrutiny.
But the importance of judges being allowed to operate without outside influence from any quarter was also stressed.
"Public representatives are therefore entitled to criticise decisions made by the court but it is important, for the upholding of the rule of law and to maintain public confidence, that the Judiciary are (and are seen to be) independent of outside influence when fulfilling the functions of their office," the letter concluded.