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Policing and Crime Act 2017 – Six Months On Is Police Bail Any Better?

In a blog written by a colleague (Jennifer Siddorn posted on 17th March 2017) the proposed new provisions for police bail were heralded by the government as “the end to the injustice of people being left to languish on very lengthy periods of pre-charge bail by introducing a limit of 28 days”

Whilst this sound bite seemed like the much needed end to lengthy bail periods which were so publicly complained of by celebrities and members of the government – as a criminal practitioner the anecdotal evidence seems to show we are still in the same, if not worse position than before the changes were implemented.

Home Secretary Amber Rudd announced at the time “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”.

Released under investigation

Since the implementation of the new provisions the police,(with clients I have dealt with) have not released suspects on bail in the main, only in very limited cases where they feel that conditions need to be attached has this happened. Instead what seems to be happening and some would argue as a way of circumventing the new provisions, is that suspects are being “released under investigation”.

What does this term mean? There are no time limits and effectively, has resulted in the same situation occurring with regard to indefinite uncertainty in respect of the case and the police investigation. What is worse is that, despite what Rudd said, that this new implementation would allow judicial oversight, if anything the position is now worse as the investigation is kicked into the long grass with little or no accountability as to delay.

Previously we had dates of bail returns which would concentrate the mind of the investigating officer, CPS and us but now on release under investigation there is no date and often very little communication from the police with regard to status updates and this puts the onus on Solicitors to be even more pro-active on their clients behalf to try and chase but with little ability to do anything if they result in no response as the matter is “under investigation” with no end date!

I have had to resort to threats of complaints to officers in the case just to get an update email – there is little or no redress as there is no date to which they have to work. Frequently officers do not respond and we can no longer check the status with the custody sergeants as the client “is not on bail” with a date to return so they have nothing to check against.

It gets worse, the current provisions have been in place for just over 6 months and within that period those that were previously “on the old police bail” (some for in excess of a year in two cases of mine) are now being “released under investigation ….with no end date and no accountability.

A client who has been on bail since November 2016 was “released under investigation” by the officer yesterday as he could no longer justify the re-bails with conditions particularly as despite the fact the case has been sent to the CPS for a charging decision 4 months ago no lawyer has been allocated to review what is a relatively simply fraud case. Explaining to the client he is still under investigation and could be for an indefinite period was an interesting conversation and when he was made aware we had no date to work towards he was bedside himself!

Effects of the Policing and Crime Act

The present situation, whilst it was brought in as a way of ensuring accountability and speedier justice has in these first 6 months resulted in the loss of any accountability and has the net effect in my opinion, of cases where a person could be under investigation with no resolution for months and possibly years and no one will be accountable in any way.

Only time will tell but I suspect in another 6 months’ time my client may well still be released under investigation and we will be no further forward having been arrested for the offence some 18 months ago.

The Minister for Policing and the Fire Service – Brandon Lewis may need to revisit his statement made at the time that “we need to rebalance the system for the benefit of all concerned. “Today’s changes will bring an end to those long periods of bail without any independent oversight that we have seen in the past”. …….. Mr Lewis I am not sure my clients or complainants and victims will think this new regime is something to be commended.

It was a good soundbite Amber and pacified the press but in practice nothing has changed and if anything we are in a worse situation.

Perhaps it needs another high profile person to be released under investigation to highlight the issues….. Only time will tell.