Rise in suspects released under investigation after bail limit introduced

Officers may be releasing suspects under investigation to get around the 28-day cap on pre-charge bail, new figures suggest.

Sep 26, 2017

Officers may be releasing suspects under investigation to get around the 28-day cap on pre-charge bail, new figures suggest. Just four per cent of suspects were bailed in the three months to June after the Government limited bail lengths to reduce the number of people stuck in lengthy ‘legal limbo’. The figure – down from 26 per cent in March – has been hailed as a “significant reduction”. However, almost the same proportion are now being released under investigation, with no indication that their cases are being concluded more quickly. The findings come after the Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW) claimed the rules would lead to release without bail becoming “the default position”. David Lloyd, Criminal Justice Lead and Chair of the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, told Police Professional these early indications suggest victims may not be better off under the new legislation. “Whilst these changes are intended to prevent suspects being placed on pre-charge bail for long periods of time, there is not yet evidence that suspects are under investigation for a shorter period of time, and we are aware that the changes may be having an impact on other criminal justice agencies,” he said. “Having people on lengthy bail conditions provides uncertainty for the victim. Further analysis is required to assess the impact and we will need to keep these changes under close review.” In April, the Home Office placed a 28-day limit on the length of time for which suspects could be released on pre-charge bail with the aim of reducing the number of cases where suspects are released with no concept of when or if they will be charged. If officers need more time to gather evidence they can apply for an extension to three months with approval from a superintendent. Further extensions require authorisation from a magistrate’s court. The college figures show 25 per cent of the 148,348 arrests analysed between April and June led to suspects being released under investigation compared with zero per cent in March. The proportion of cases that were ‘no further actioned’ dropped from 27 per cent to just over a fifth. The findings raise questions about whether the limit has achieved its intended purpose. Dorset police and crime commissioner Martyn Underhill described the decline in people being released on bail as “deeply concerning”. He told The Times the new legislation has made it “incredibly cumbersome and complex” to issue bail conditions, prompting some officers to cut corners to save time. He added that this situation could be putting the public at greater risk. In August, PFEW custody lead Andy Ward warned the 28-day limit was “unrealistic” for complex investigations requiring extensive evidence-gathering. He added that it would lead to forces “storing up problems for the future”. Acting Deputy Chief Constable Darren Martland, national lead for bail management, said: “The police service has worked extremely hard with the college, Home Office and criminal justice partners to successfully implement the legislation. “It is too early to draw any conclusions but initial data provided by some forces indicates that there has been a significant reduction in the use of pre-charge bail. “Officers are given clear guidance of when bail or released under investigation can be used. They will be aware of any vulnerabilities or threats and each case will be treated on its merits. A Home Office spokesperson said: “Pre-charge bail, including conditions, continues to be available where it is necessary and proportionate, such as to protect victims and witnesses, while the reforms should also reduce the possible negative impact on individuals on bail, such as mental trauma and financial implications.”

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