New bail rules ‘just storing up problems for the future’

24 August 2017

The biggest shake-up in police bail in 32 years will be one of the topics under the spotlight at this year’s National Custody Seminar next month.

Delegates will hear that there has been a dramatic fall in suspects being granted bail around the country.

It could even lead to criminals evading justice, according to the Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW) whose members are reporting a drastic drop since pre-charge bail was capped to 28 days.

PFEW Custody Lead Andy Ward said: “As we anticipated, since the law changed in April the number of suspects released on pre-charge bail has  dropped dramatically and release without bail appears to have become the default position.

“We have highlighted that the 28-day time limit is unrealistic for complex investigations. Cyber-crime, for example, requires computers to be seized and equipment to be interrogated to gain evidence. The results of detailed forensic analysis can take a significant amount of time to be returned.”

In the longer term, he added: “We remain concerned that forces could be storing up problems for the future, which may come back to haunt them, our members and the public. Effective supervision and management of investigations is essential and, although not without its limitations, police pre-charge bail provides a recognised framework for that; without it there is a real risk that investigations will not be given adequate priority and resourcing.

“Pre-charge bail can also be used to protect victims and witnesses and prevent further offending. There is a risk that the new arrangements could contribute to a further increase in recent crime trends and that some offenders may escape justice altogether. It is essential that forces put in place robust systems for the effective and timely management of investigations.”

The Federation strongly opposed the new rules – now enshrined in the Policing and Crime Act 2017 – but the Home Office ignored its concerns and pushed on with the changes, which represent the biggest overhaul of bail arrangements in the entire history of PACE (the Police and Criminal Evidence Act).

Bail, unlawful detentions and emerging threats from legal highs will form part of the two-day conference programme at the Seminar on 12 & 13 September. Other topics will include deaths and serious incidents in custody, detainees with mental health issues, and the restructure and reform of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC).

Guest speakers include:

  • IPCC chief operating officer Ian Todd
  • Katie Kempen, chief executive of the Independent Custody Visiting Association
  • National Policing Lead for Custody, Chief Constable  Nick Ephgrave
  • Associate Professor Caerwyn Ash on risk management of vulnerable detainees
  • Michael Brown and Libby Potten from the College of Policing  
  • Advanced drug practitioner Jamie Thompson
  • LSE legal and bail expert Professor Michael Zander
  • Criminal defence lawyer Susan Freeburn

There will also be representatives from the College of Policing, HMIC, the CPS, the Superintendents’ Association, the National Appropriate Adult Network (NAAN) and Headway, the brain injury charity.