Criminal justice risks returning to a time when suspects were placed on bail for extended periods while investigations moved at a ‘glacial pace’, the Law Society has warned in response to the new justice bill.
The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill, introduced to the House of Commons yesterday, would give police more time to investigate suspects under police bail so fewer people are ‘released under investigation’. However, the Law Society said victims, witnesses and those accused of crimes need to know investigations and charging will take place ‘within a reasonable time frame’.
‘An effective pre-charge bail regime is critical for public safety and for justice,’ Law Society president David Greene said. ‘There is a risk changes announced [yesterday] will bounce criminal justice back to a time, pre-2017, when people accused of a crime could be kept on bail by the police with restrictions on their liberties for long periods while investigations proceed at a glacial pace.’
‘Proper supervision of investigations by senior officers must be maintained so that decisions to extend bail are properly assessed. Without adequate resources the system will fail victims of crime, witnesses and defendants alike.’
The bill also proposes that some of the temporary provisions from the coronavirus legislation are made permanent, in particular those which allow court users to participate remotely via video-link.
‘The lesson from the pandemic is that remote court hearings work well for some elements of the process, such as for administrative matters, but in other circumstances can degrade the quality of justice,’ Greene said.
He added that the bill should safeguard the quality of justice, ‘for instance excluding hearings where live evidence is being given, and setting conditions that have to be met, as to the parties and the case, before a remote hearing can be held’.
The bill has received a cool response from much of the legal profession. Derek Sweeting QC, chair of the Bar Council, said a crackdown on crime will not reverse ‘decades of underfunding and mounting backlogs’.