Changes to Pre-Charge Bail

Smith Partnership Solicitors, celebrating its 30th anniversary this year, looks at the new legislation in 2017 for Pre-charge bail which has been the focus of news headlines this week. 

Pre-charge bail allows for those suspected of criminal offences to be released from police custody pending further enquiries where there is not enough evidence to bring charges. It imposes an obligation on the individual to return to the police station at a later date for further interview or to be charged. Bail often carries with it conditions which restricts a person’s freedom, for example restrictions on travel or residence and on whom the person is allowed to contact. These conditions are designed to minimise the risk of further offences, or to prevent the person interfering with the ongoing investigation or intimidating a witness. The police will usually have a power to arrest an individual if they fail to attend on the specified date or breach any of the conditions of their bail.

2017 sees new legislation – the Policing and Crime Act 2017 – brings in new rules about the use of pre-charge bail with effect from 3 April 2017. These new rules mean that there is a presumption that a suspect will be released without bail unless an officer, of at least the rank of inspector, considers that bail is both necessary and proportionate, also taking into account any conditions that might be imposed. Of particular significance is the fact that bail can now only last for up to 28 days initially and then can only be extended by a superintendent for a further three months. Further extensions beyond 3 months will require the authority of the courts. Before the new legislation there was no limit on the period of bail and individuals under investigation were subject to pre-charge bail for many months whilst investigations were ongoing.

Our experts say “It is well known that the radio and television presenter, Paul Gambaccini - arrested as part of Operation Yewtree in November 2013 - spent almost a year on police bail before being cleared. He has since been critical of the use of bail by the Metropolitan Police in his case, stating that the police repeatedly extended his bail, not because they needed more time to investigate, but because they were concerned that publicity about him being cleared would have impacted negatively on attempts to convict other high profile individuals who were also arrested as part of Operation Yewtree. It has been reported in the last few weeks that Mr Gambaccini is suing the Metropolitan Police and that he lost over £200,000 in earnings during the course of the investigation.”

 “The Police Federation of England and Wales has suggested that the new time limit is unrealistic in more complex investigations which are likely to require more time such as historic allegations or those requiring analysis of computer data. It will therefore be interesting to see how these changes work in practice over the coming months. It seems likely though that use of pre-charge bail will be reduced considerably and reserved primarily for the more serious or complex cases. Challenges to decisions to impose bail or extend it are likely to focus on whether bail was “necessary and proportionate” in the particular circumstances of each case.”

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