Police Bail Reforms – Do they go far enough?

Written 6th February 2017 by Ruth Peters

The Policing and Crime Act 2017 received Royal Assent on 31 January and is likely to come into force at the beginning of April 2017. The Act introduces significant changes to current pre-charge bail legislation by introducing time limits for police bail.

Policing and Crime Act 2017 – Key Changes

The key changes in the Policing and Crime Act are:

  • There is a presumption of release without bail unless the necessity and proportionality criteria are met.
  • Where these criteria are met a maximum 28 day period of pre-charge bail can be granted by an Inspector.
  • This period can be further extended to a period of three months by a Superintendent.
  • An applicable bail period (ABP) will be set by the authorising officer and this is the window of time in which a custody officer may set and vary bail.
  • The Applicable Bail Period can only be further extended by a Magistrates’ Court upon application by the police.
  • There are longer time limits for cases designated as ‘exceptionally complex’ for example SFO investigations.

Bail for CPS Advice

The provisions above do not apply when a suspect is bailed for CPS advice under section 37 (7)(a) of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. The custody officer will retain the power to grant bail in such circumstances.

Where a suspect is initially bailed for further enquires but then referred to the CPS for a charging decision the ABP Clock will be suspended. The ABP clock will then start again should the CPS request further police work as part of the investigation.

Why do we need time limits for police bail?

The length of time individuals are on police bail for has come under increased scrutiny in the last few years with many lengthy high profile investigations such as Cliff Richard and Paul Gambaccini. Such cases have highlighted the concern of lengthy bail periods and quite understandably this causes a huge amount of stress and anxiety to individuals who have not been charged with any criminal offence. Lengthy police investigations also have a significant impact upon victims of crime as they continue to have matters ‘hanging over them’  and this cannot be in the interests of justice for either party.

Does the Act go far enough?

Essentially no, the Act does not go far enough.  The Act still fails to set an upper time limit for police investigations as the police can revisit the Magistrates’ Court to make additional applications for further extensions of time. How the Magistrates’ Court deal with these applications remains to be seen but when dealing with other applications by the police, such as warrants for further detention, the courts tend to rely on the representations made by the police.

As discussed above the clock will stop when the police refer the matter to the Crown Prosecution Service for a charging decision. This period of review by the CPS can in itself take too long.

Furthermore the Act does not apply where a suspect is never placed on police bail. Many suspects are interviewed under caution but without ever being arrested or subsequently  bailed for further enquires by the police. The situation in respect of such suspects will be unchanged with no time limits for the police investigation and this will do nothing to reduce the anxiety many face when they are under investigation for lengthy periods.

Specialist Criminal Defence Lawyers

If you require further advice in relation to a police bail matter or you are currently on police bail please contact our highly experienced criminal defence lawyers by telephoning 0161 83411515 and ask to speak to  Helen Buxton or Alex Close-Claughton.

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