28 September 2016

Study reveals evidence that limits on police bail could impact on police and victims

Reducing the number of cases where pre-charge bail can be used and limiting initial bail periods to 28 days for suspects could create difficulties for police investigating cases - including violent crime and sexual offences.

The College of Policing today released its study into pre-charge bail which looked at the reasons behind the length of bail required by police.

It comes after the Government proposed legislation to limit bail, authorised by inspectors, to 28 days.
The new legislation also recommends bail which is extended beyond 28 days should be authorised by a superintendent and cases where bail is extended for three months or more be agreed at magistrates' court.

Police use pre-charge bail as a way for officers to question a suspect and then allow the individual to return to their normal routine while further investigations are carried out.
The law also allows officers to attach conditions to bail which can protect complainants or witnesses, preserve evidence and mitigate the risk of further criminality.

The legislation introduces the requirement for bail to be used only when it is necessary and proportionate - so many cases where bail is currently imposed will no longer meet the required standards and those suspects would be released unconditionally.
The professional body for the police worked with nine forces over six months to gather evidence involving more than 17,000 cases.

 It found;

  • The average length of time individuals spent on pre-charge bail, including extensions, was 53 days
  • 41 per cent of all cases involving violence and sexual offences were bailed for more than 28 days
  • Forensic analysis was one of the key drivers of long periods of pre-charge bail. The study found 60 per cent of cases involving suspects who were bailed for more than 90 days involved some form of forensic analysis
  • Phone downloads was the most frequent type of forensic analysis given as a reason for bail
  • Other reasons that were cited for longer periods of bail were the file being with the Crown Prosecution Service for a decision on charging and the need to obtain a professional witness statement, for example, from a medical practitioner.

 The study found the implications for imposing a 28 day limit could create some difficulties for officers and staff including;

  • A significant proportion of cases that are likely to require conditions, such as violent and sex offences, are currently bailed for more than 28 days
    The majority of rape cases are currently bailed for more than 28 days
  • A high proportion of cases where computer interrogation was cited as the reason for bail were sexual  offences, with an average bail length of 84 days, which may be difficult to reduce
  • A high proportion of cases where phone downloads were cited as the reason for bail were drug offences, for which the average number of days bailed was 71.

David Tucker, crime lead at the College of Policing, said: “Our study has found evidence that limits on police bail could impact on police and victims of crime.

“Factors which determine the length of pre-charge bail include obtaining forensic analysis of some form and imposing a shorter bail limit is unlikely to affect these timescales, but could create practical difficulties for officers and police staff. “We are also concerned about the impact on victims of crime and in particular violent and sexual cases where pre-charge bail is most likely to be required.

“As the professional body for the police, we know our members want to conduct effective investigations and keep victims and suspects informed of the progress in their case and when a person is not on bail, there is a danger that an investigation will not have deadlines.
“There is a further potential for victims to feel their case is not being treated with sufficient seriousness if they see a suspect being released without any form of control.

“Under the proposals, cases are likely to require authorisation of bail by an inspector and review by an officer of superintendent rank or above. “This may have a significant impact on the resources in forces at inspector and superintendent level and on the leadership support they offer to colleagues.”

In addition, the study notes imposing impractical time limits for bail authorisation may have adverse effects elsewhere in the system. Many cases in the study went beyond three months and under the current proposals these will have to be dealt with by Magistrates’ Court.

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