The new bail reforms came into force on Monday 3rd April 2017 and changed the way police are able to deal with suspects under criminal investigation. The Policing and Crime Act 2017 amends the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 and now makes it more stringent for police to keep a person ‘on bail’ whilst there is insufficient evidence to charge them with a criminal offence.
According to the Home Office, 400,000 people a year are placed on ‘pre-charge’ bail which often comes with restrictive conditions lasting for months or even years. There was no limit for how long police could keep a suspect on bail so many people were left in legal limbo and it wasn’t uncommon for them to develop anxiety and depression while they wait for police to decide their outcome.
From 3rd April 2017, there is a legal presumption that suspects will be released without bail and the use of any pre-charge bail will be an exception. Two criteria need to be fulfilled before it can be applied – (1) it must be necessary and proportionate and (2) it must be authorised by an officer of at least the rank of an inspector. The bail period is also to be limited to 28 days. Some say the 28-day limit would be unrealistic in complex cases but the period can still be extended up to a total of 3 months if authorised by an officer of at least the rank of a superintendent. Any extension beyond that must be authorised by a Magistrates.
It is a significant change for policing. Proponents of the changes and even those who criticised the initial proposals, recognise that no one should have the threat of potential prosecution hanging over them indefinitely. It is hoped that the new legislation will make the use of the pre-charge bail less common but it is unclear whether existing police matters will be affected and if the legislation applies retrospectively and whether charging decisions are likely to be sped up. Home Secretary Amber Rudd said it would “bring about much-needed safeguards, public accountability and independent scrutiny, while ensuring the police can continue to do their vital work.” With only days into the new changes, there is a long wait to see if any issues or triumphs come to light.