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Time limit being considered on police bail

28th Oct 2014

Plans to limit the length of time someone can be held on bail before being charged are being considered by the Home Office.

The proposal, welcomed by criminal defence lawyers, was announced by Home Secretary Theresa May as she spoke at the College of Policing annual conference. She noted that she was pleased by the college’s efforts to develop and improve the pre-charge bail process, and stated that the Home Office must ‘look at statutory time limits on the use of pre-charge bail’ in order to ensure that people do not spend ‘months or even years’ on bail to then be told that no charges were being brought against them.

The issue has been raised recently in light of Operation Yewtree investigations, when celebrities such as Paul Gambaccini and Jim Davidson were wrongly accused of historic sexual abuse and left on bail for several months.

A criminal law partner at firm Kingsley Napley, John Harding, welcomes May’s pledge to look at this issue, and used Gambaccini’s case as an illustration of when lives are put on hold and reputations ruined unfairly when no charges are brought against suspects.

Harding added that despite high-profile cases like this being highly publicised in the press, the problem also affects thousands of non-celebrities every day, ‘often with a devastating impact on the individuals concerned, their families and the victims’.

There is currently no limit as to how long a suspect can be kept on police bail – in 2013, the BBC published research that showed more than 3000 people had been kept on bail for more than six months.

Andrew Caplen, president of The Law Society, also supports the proposal for statutory time limits on police bail, noting that not only does keeping a suspect on police bail limit their freedom, it can also lead to ‘protracted and slow’ police investigations, ‘making the justice system less efficient and with a negative effect on complainants and witnesses’.

Caplen believes a 28-day limit should be imposed, with police being able to apply for an extension after this if it can be proven to be necessary.