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28-Day Limit on Police Bail Comes Into Force

28-Day Limit on Police Bail Comes Into Force

A 28-day limit on police bail has come into force in England and Wales as the government seeks to end individuals being kept under a cloud of suspicion for excessive periods of time. The move comes in response to growing criticism of people including high-profile figures being kept on bail without charge for months or even years in investigations such as those into historical sexual abuse and others.

Until now, police forces in England and Wales were not bound by a cap on how long someone can be on bailed.

Each year, around 303,000 suspects are placed on police bail. Around 19,600 suspects are on bail for more than six months and 4,000 for more than 12 months.

Bail extensions can still be granted in some circumstances

Under the change in the new Policing And Crime Act, one extension of up to three months can be authorised by a senior police officer at superintendent level or above. In exceptional circumstances where an individual needs to be detained on bail for longer, the police will have to apply to a magistrate.

Bail will now only be used when it is “necessary and proportionate.” Where this is not the case there will be a presumption that people will be released without bail.

Home Secretary Amber Rudd said the reforms brought “much-needed safeguards” over police bail: “Pre-charge bail is a useful and necessary tool, but in many cases it is being imposed on people for many months, or even years, without any judicial oversight – and that cannot be right. These important reforms will mean fewer people are placed on bail and for shorter periods. They will bring about much-needed safeguards – public accountability and independent scrutiny – while ensuring the police can continue to do their vital work.”

Police agencies have their misgivings over curbs on use of bail

The Police Federation of England and Wales said the limit will mean a “massive change” in custody culture. Andy Ward, deputy general secretary, said the new limit could be unrealistic in complicated investigations.

He added: “Cyber-crime, for example, requires computers to be seized and equipment to be interrogated to gain evidence . . . The results for detailed forensic tests also take some time to come back.”

The College of Policing has been previously critical of the proposals, warning it could hinder communication between police forces about potentially dangerous suspects.

David Tucker, crime lead at the college, said: “The new legislation is a significant change for policing and has sought to strike a balance between the need for police to manage investigations and not leaving a person suspected of a crime on bail for an unacceptably long period . . . We recognise this is a major change for policing and we are supporting our members by providing high-quality training materials to help them continue to manage investigations to bring criminals to justice and protect the public.”

Paul Gambaccini welcomes change

Radio presenter Paul Gambaccini, who spent a year on bail before a case against him over historical sex allegations was dropped, said he “saluted” the courage of Theresa May in making the change. He has previously described how he faced the “full weight of the state” for 12 months in relation to a “completely fictitious” case.

The Daily Telegraph, with particular reference to the Gambaccini case, says extended bail has “come to seem like the police’s chief investigatory tactic,” being used to see if allegations are given credence by new witnesses coming forward instead of building credible cases based on inspection, evidence and fact.

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