Lydia Pearce Pupil Barrister at Broadway House Chambers Expert on Pre-Charge Bail
Lydia PearcePupil Barrister at Broadway House ChambersExpert on Pre-Charge Bail

Waiting for the axe to fall..... why the new law will not solve the mischief it set out to amend.

The changes to per-charge bail made by the Policing and Crime Act 2017 were supposed to prevent situations like that of Paul Gambaccinni, where suspects languished on bail for months or years before being given an outcome to their case.

 

However, the changes made by the Act have failed to resolve that problem.

 

Prior to the Act there were no limits on the amount of time a suspect could be bailed for prior to charge. This was widely criticised in the media in the time following Operation Yewtree after many high profile people were arrested and kept on bail for protracted periods.

 

Under the new Act pre-charge bail is limited in time to an inital 28 days (in a standard case), then 3 months and 6 months. Subsequent extensions have to be authorised by a Magistrate and are limited to 3 or 6 months, although in theory these can be applied for ad-infinitum.

 

If this was the result for all suspects being investigated by the police then the desired effect of giving suspects a limit to the time they spend on bail  and certainty that their case was progressing and that the matter would be resolved in a timely fashion would have been reached. But this is not and will not be the case for the majority of suspects.

 

As a result of the new law the majority of suspects will now be released without bail... but don't celebrate too quickly. Thery will be released with the knowledge that the police investigation limps on, just as it would have done before, and that at some undefined point in the future they may be charged. It is unproven and un-researched that this is any less psychologically taxing than sitting on bail where at least there is some point in the future to focus on.

 

Additionally, a large proportion of suspects are bailed due to waiting for CPS advice. Waiting for CPS advice is an EXCEPTION to the time limited bails, therefore if the suspect was or is waiting on the CPS to make a decision then they will be bailed for however long they would have been bailed for before and this bail can be extended for any length of time, exactly the same as before.  

 

This means that the only people who are likely to fall under the new time limited bails are those who the police feel they can justify imposing conditions upon. But, it is widely known that police bail conditions are limp at best and unenforcable at worst.

 

When applying for an extension in Magistrates Court after 6 months the police will have to prove that the imposition of bail (with conditions) is required. If the suspect has complied with all conditions for 6 months it is less likely that the Magistrates will agree that the bail is required.

 

If the Magistrates are unlikely to enforce a bail extension after 6 months, will police superintendents and ACCs be willing to stick their necks out the 5 and 3 months prior?

 

In conclusion, the Act has not relieved the pyschological stress hanging over suspects who previously remained on long bails. This is becuase the majority of cases will now either limp on without a bail or be on a long bail for CPS advice and suspects will be left waiting for the axe to fall.

Contact for your free copy of Guidance to Pre-Charge Bail

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