The Policing and Crime Act which received Royal Assent on 31 January 2017 passes into law an entirely new regime for police bail. Existing provisions under PACE had been criticised for keeping suspects on bail indefinitely as they await the decision as to whether or not they will be charged. However, far from putting an end to this pre-charge purgatory, the Act provides only a superficial solution.
It is true that the new proposals limit the pre-charge bail period to 28 days (please see related blog To bail or not to bail? – The question before Parliament as it considers new proposals under the Policing and Crime Bill). It is also true that in order to extend this period, the police will be required to satisfy various checks and balances. Meanwhile, the suspect will be entitled to make representations that their pre-charge bail should not be prolonged.
In reality however, those who have been arrested and are bailed by the Police may still be waiting weeks, months, or even years to discover their fate. It would seem that the only tangible difference is that once the new provisions are in place, the police will encounter additional administrative burdens and paperwork. This could further impede investigations and stretch an already over-stretched public service. From the suspect’s perspective, whether he or she is labelled on “bail” or released by the police without bail, the burden of being the subject of on-going police enquiries remains.
One of the more practical solutions would be for Officers to receive more training on the decision as to whether or not an arrest is necessary. Investigations can be conducted by suspects voluntarily attending Police Stations for interviews. This would in many circumstances obviate the need for a suspect to be bailed. Indeed, in his review into the Metropolitan Police Service’s handling of non-recent sexual offence investigations alleged against persons of public prominence, Sir Richard Henriques identified that particular consideration should be given to the necessity to arrest suspects in those circumstances. Although this review focussed on allegations of a sexual nature made against people in the public eye, the findings should be universally applicable. When made sensibly and cautiously, that initial decision of whether to arrest or not could avoid significant paperwork, wasted resources, and the inevitable distress suffered by the person undergoing investigation.
Undoubtedly the issue of suspects waiting for a decision to be made by the Police and the CPS presents a serious challenge, but the Policing and Crime Act 2017 falls far short of plugging the widening gap in police skills and resources.