The Law Society and criminal defence lawyers today welcomed the home secretary’s proposal for statutory limits on the length of time police are allowed to keep suspects on bail before being charged.
Theresa May (pictured) told the College of Policing Conference that ‘we must also look at statutory time limits on the use of pre-charge bail to prevent people spending months or even years on bail only for no charges to be brought’.
She was speaking after the BBC broadcaster Paul Gambaccini was told he would face no charges following his arrest in October 2013 in connection with alleged historical sex offences. He spent a year on bail until the Crown Prosecution Service last week said he would face no further action.
Gambaccini had denied the allegations throughout.
The Law Society said there is currently no limit on how long a person can be kept on police bail before a decision on whether to charge them is made. In 2013, BBC research found that 3,000 people had been on bail for more than six months.
Society president Andrew Caplen said people are often left ‘in the wilderness’ while police decide whether they should be charged. He backed the call for a statutory limit, suggesting one of 28 days.
‘Not only does keeping someone on police bail interfere with their liberty; it also means that police investigations can be protracted and slow, making the justice system less efficient and with a negative effect on complainants and witnesses,’ Caplen said.
‘We support there being a statutory limit of 28 days, after which the police should apply to a magistrate for an extension where this can be shown to be necessary. We will carefully consider whether the detail of the review announced today coincides with our view.’
John Harding, criminal law partner at national firm Kingsley Napley, welcomed the announcement.
‘Very restrictive conditions can be imposed during police bail which place severe limitations on individual liberty when a person has not actually been charged with an offence and in some cases never will be.
‘It is time to change this. Judicial oversight of bail would be a practical way to improve the current system.’
He added: ‘A scheme similar to the current custody time limits provisions is perhaps a good solution whereby a trial would be required to start within a specified period or an individual has to be released from bail restrictions.’