11 March 2020
Federation custody officers are helping to reshape failing pre-charge bail laws by feeding into the Government’s consultation.
Officials from the Home Office met with the Police Federation of England and Wales’ (PFEW) members at its National Custody Forum to discuss how the process can be improved and to take on board its suggestions.
The meeting comes after the Home Secretary Priti Patel launched the consultation last month following a review which found the use of pre-charge bail is falling and more suspects are being released under investigation with no restrictions – putting victims at risk.
Some of the suggestions made to the Home Office Police Powers Unit at the meeting - which was held at PFEW’s Leatherhead Headquarters - included extending the initial bail period from 28 days to three months and for it to be approved by a custody officer instead of an inspector.
Currently blood samples can take eight to 10 weeks to come back from forensics, not to mention the amount of time needed to gather digital evidence, therefore it was felt 28 days is not long enough to gather strong evidence to secure a charge.
It was also mooted that the decision to sign off for pre-charge bail should initially lie with the custody officer instead of an inspector due to the impartially of the role.
Pre-charge bail is also “toothless”, the forum feels, as there are currently no sanctions for breaching conditions – other than being kept in custody for potentially 24 hours.
Suggestions for making legislation stronger include making breach of police bail a non-PACE offence so there the suspect’s original custody clock is not affected if they are accused of breaching their bail conditions.
It was proposed that orders - such as Domestic Violence Prevention Orders (DVPOs) - could be used more as they carry harsher penalties including time in jail.
There was also discussion about the possibility of using Fixed Penalty Notices for breaches however this would not be possible under the current legislation.
The Home Office will continue to liaise with the PFEW and other policing stakeholders before the consultation closes on April 29.
Chris Bentley, chair of the National Custody Forum, said: “The 28-day time limit on pre-charge bail was a predicable disaster.
“However, the Home Office is keen to get it right this time it seems by taking our views seriously and by wanting to involve us in the consultation process from start to finish.
“Any reforms must make the law fairer, fit for purpose and work for both suspects and victims – it cannot be one-sided.
“This forum is an excellent opportunity for us to shape future legislation to make the system better for our members and society.
“We look forward to continuing this piece of work with the Home Office in the coming months”, he concluded.