The Home Office hinted today that it would respond positively to calls for tighter restrictions on the time people suspected of a criminal offence can remain on police bail.

It was responding to a House of Commons home affairs select committee report calling for a limit of 28 days and anonymity for suspects in sex cases.

A Home Office spokesperson said: 'It cannot be right that people can spend months or even years on pre-charge bail with no oversight. That is why, as set out in the select committee’s report, we launched a consultation to fundamentally re-examine the way pre-charge bail is used and authorised and we will publish our response shortly.'

The committee's investigation followed the announcement last October that no charges would be brought against broadcaster Paul Gambaccini after he was kept on bail for 12 months over an allegation of historical sexual abuse. 

In its report, published today, the select committee recommends that an initial time limit on bail of 28 days be introduced. 'A decision to re-bail at 28 days could be taken by the police, but subject to challenge by a senior police officer independent of the investigation.'

The report also condemns the practice of informally releasing information about suspects to the media. In sexual cases, apart from in 'excceptional' circumstances such as a threat to public safety, suspects should enjoy the same right of anonymity as the victim. 

The Law Society welcomed the committee's recommendation that bail should be limited to 28 days, but said it believes extensions should only be made by a court rather than the police.

Paul Gambaccini’s lawyer Kate Goold, of London firm Bindmans said: 'The home affairs committee have tackled the egregious nature of lengthy pre charge bail and the damage it causes not only to the individuals involved but also to the interests of justice.

'An arrest only requires reasonable suspicion, it is not a finding of guilt, yet an individual’s life and reputation can be destroyed just by the unfounded allegation of one individual. Mr Gambaccini hoped to find some meaning from his arrest. Hopefully bail reform will provide this.'