November 16th saw representatives from UK police forces attend the College of Policing site in Ryton to learn about the changes to Pre-Charge Bail.
The event was hosted by Darren Martland, the NPCC lead for Pre-Charge Bail. ACC Martland was joined by Andrew Addy from the Home Office, Prof Michael Zander QC, Libby Potten from the College of Policing and Superintendent Zoe Thornton of Merseyside Police.
Andrew Addy provided an explanation of the new bail provisions in the Policing and Crime Bill and fielded many questions from the police, CPS and related product representatives present.
Prof Zander cast doubts upon the benefits of the proposed changes also garnering the first laughs at the event.
Superintendent Zoe Thornton explained the bail pilot she has been running at Merseyside Police for the last 2 years. The pilot is a 'soft version' of the proposed changes and has seen the number of people on bail reduced by over 50%. She described the difficulties of culture change and obstacles faced with IT systems which are not yet new-law compliant. In particular the retention of biometric samples when a suspect was released not on bail, but still under investigation has caused her force and PNC problems.
Libby Potten was pitching for the College of Policing, who are still awaiting a final version of the law before creating a training package and they anticipate an 8 week lead time before any training package is available. She conducted an electronic survey with the attendees of the conference to gauge how prepared UK police forces are for the changes. Over 80% of attending forces had no training in place nor written yet.
There was talk of writing to the Home Office to petition for the changes to be delayed to allow police forces, associated agencies and products (such as the IT systems) to prepare for the changes, but this is unlikely to be productive.
The changes to the law have been mooted for over a year and the original draft of the bill has been available since February 2016- with very little changing in the 9 months since. It appears that police forces in the UK will have to get ready and quickly because ignorance of the law is no defence and neither is ignorance in the face of changing law.