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Legal changes relating to the use of pre-charge bail are expected to come into force shortly. Once implemented, police officers can extend bail twice in standard cases, and up to 12 months in complex or non-standard cases. Our criminal defence solicitors explain what it all means.
If you have been accused of a crime and you need legal representation, please contact us at Ashmans Solicitors. We can take your call 24 hours a day, 7 days week.
The current system
Currently, when someone is arrested on suspicion of committing a crime, the police have three options:
- Keep the suspect in custody
- Release the suspect on pre-charge bail, with or without conditions
- Release the suspect under investigation (RUI)
A suspect in a criminal case can only be kept in custody for 24 hours without being charged (with some exceptions). This means the suspect will likely be released under investigation, or released on pre-charge bail.
There is a preference for RUI due to legal reforms made in 2017.
Previous legal changes
The way in which pre-charge bail could be used was amended in 2017 under the Policing and Crime Act. The new legislation stated that police officers should not use pre-charge bail as the default option. This is referred to as a ‘presumption’ against pre-charge bail. Also, the law was changed so that pre-charge bail could only last for a limited amount of time, after which the suspect either had to be charged or the case dropped.
Because of these restrictions, police officers increasingly started to use the new system of ‘release under investigation’ instead. This is when you are still a suspect in a case, but the police do not have enough evidence to charge you. You are not allowed to contact anyone linked to your case, but otherwise, there are no conditions attached to your release (as there can be with pre-charge bail).
Why is reform needed?
The reason the law was changed back in 2017 was because there were concerns that individuals were being kept on pre-charge bail for long periods, sometimes with strict conditions.
However, this has led to new problems. In January 2021, a joint report from the HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate and HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services considered the potential issues relating to RUI. The report uncovered a number of issues with the new system, including that:
- Suspects were being moved from bail to RUI after 28 days without good reason
- RUI cases were being given less priority than bail cases, meaning they take longer than they should
- RUI leaves too many victims without the reassurance and protection that bail conditions can provide (because no conditions can be attached to RUI, as with bail)
The government held a public consultation which closed in May 2020. It sought views on whether the presumption against bail should be removed and a risk-based approach adopted instead. The proposals also suggested removing the statutory framework governing pre-charge bail timescales.
The government’s response to the consultation was published on 14 January 2021. The upcoming legal changes are included in schedule 4 of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 and are expected to come into force in later October 2022.
The new arrangements include:
- Remove the presumption against bail and replace it with a neutral position
- Amend section 30A of PACE which confers on a constable power to release on bail a person who is arrested elsewhere than at a police station, also known as ‘street bail’
- Allow bail to be extended twice in standard cases, up to nine months
- Allow bail to be extended in complex and non-standard cases up to 12 months
- New guidance on the use of pre-charge bail
We are awaiting the final guidance but can assure all of our clients that our entire team is monitoring these developments closely. We will be ready to deal with the changes from the moment they come into force.
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