Theresa May, the home secretary, is putting into action plans to restrict the use of police bail to no longer than twenty-eight days. Currently, there is no limit or oversight by the courts on the use of police bail, allowing members of the public who have not had any charges brought against them to be kept under restrictions indefinitely.
Restrictions that can be placed on an individual by police when they are on bail include restricting movement, seizing passports, mobile phones and laptops, and suspending bank accounts. Although it is not within the police’s power, many people are suspended from their jobs while they are on bail. The absence of court oversight also means that someone on bail has no right to appeal during a long period of being on bail or after a long period has ended without charges being brought.
Paul Gambaccini, the BBC broadcaster, was kept on bail for a year over alleged historical sex offences before the Crown Prosecution Service decided not to bring charges against him. He described the ordeal as “12 months of trauma”.
Approximately 5,930 people in England and Wales have been placed on bail for six months, with the period lasting over three years for some. The Home Office estimates that introducing the new limit could affect nearly 60,000 cases a year.
A cross-party campaign, “Justice delayed, justice denied”, is also supporting the proposed restrictions, consisting of signatories among lawyers, politicians and journalists. Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, is also a supporter.
However, the new restrictions, which would amend the 1984 Police and Criminal Evidence act, have been delayed due to a coalitional dispute. While there is broad agreement between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats on the new restrictions, there is a divide in how requests by the police to extend bail past the twenty-eight day limit should be assessed and approved.
The Conservatives are proposing a tiered system where police chief superintendents would be able to authorise an extension up to three months, a magistrate up to a year and a crown court judge for a period extending beyond a year. Alternatively, the Liberal Democrats propose giving those on bail the power to challenge extensions to their bail beyond twenty-eight days in a magistrates court.
The dispute could delay the new restrictions being passed into law for two months.
If you are concerned or affected by the effects of police bail, Beecham Peacock can offer expert legal advice. Our specialist solicitors are highly experienced in criminal law. Contact us today for more information.