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Police bail - review needed but are calls for a four-week limit realistic?

View profile for Mike Pemberton
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With the recent discovery that more than 57,000 people are on police bail, Richard Atkinson, chairman of the Law Society's criminal law committee, is calling for a review of police bail practices and suggesting bail should be to be limited to a maximum of 28days.

At present in England, Wales and Northern Ireland there is no limit on how long somebody can be kept on police bail before a decision on whether or not to charge them is made. It is not uncommon for people to be held on bail for six months and it is not unheard of for people to be kept on bail for in excess of three and a half years. The lengthier example being more common in the case of investigations into complex frauds.

Atkinson has said: "I would call for a 28-day statutory maximum period for police bail. But it could be extended by applying to a magistrate. There, police would have to explain what stage they were at in their investigation and why a further 28-day extension of bail was necessary."

Atkinson believes that having to apply to a magistrate to have bail extended would make officers more accountable and give them a focal point to work towards.

Whilst the Police Federation appear to agree that the investigation process could in some cases be sped up they stress the importance of every investigation being thorough.

Whilst the need for thorough investigations is crucial to ensure that justice is done, it is of little solitude to the person left on bail for months. This is especially so when on police bail it is common place for a person to have ‘conditions‘ placed on them. These are effectively ‘terms of bail’ and can include curfews, stringent restrictions on movement and even more stringent restrictions on financial transactions [i.e. Restraint Orders] while an investigation continues.

In the current system, with no time limit to bail, people are often being left in the wilderness while a decision on whether or not to charge them is made.  Even if they are ultimately not charged the implications of such bail conditions over months or sometimes years can leave people financially and emotionally ruined, with lives in tatters and reputations shredded.

A recent high-profile example of a person held waiting on police bail for a lengthy period is former News of the World executive Neil Wallis. In 2009 Wallis was arrested on suspicion of phone hacking. He was kept on police bail for 19 months before being told in 2011 that he would not face criminal charges.

It is clear that a review of the current system is most definitely needed. Sadly, with constantly reduced police budgets and in an age of Hi Tech Investigations, where the analysis of computer forensics, CCTV, telephony, using interpreters or gathering evidence across borders and jurisdictions all takes time, money and painstaking analysis the idea of 28day bail limit may be a little unrealistic.

By fraud executive, Lucy Cohen

At Stephensons we understand how being on police bail can impact on your life and commit ourselves to ensuring that while on bail you are kept fully up to speed as to what the position is with your bail and why. We attend police interviews with you and in between bail dates we actively pursue the police for updates as to the progress of the investigation, wherever possible doing all we can to get the police to take ‘No Further Action.’

If you are on police bail and would like us to help you please contact us on 01616 966 229 where a member of our dedicated crime team will be on hand to advise you.