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Bail extension decisions moved from superintendents to inspectors

Home Office reforms will increase pre-charge bail limits to 90 days with inspectors approving extensions at three-month stage.

Bail extension decisions moved from superintendents to inspectors

Date - 14th January 2021
By - Gary Mason
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Pre-charge bail time lengths are to be increased from 28 days to 90 days – reversing the changes to the bail system introduced by a previous Conservative administration in 2017.

However, measures will also be in place to make sure no-one is kept on bail for unreasonable lengths of time, Home Office officials have said.

The reforms do not make major changes to the Released Under Investigation (RUI) system, use of which the Home Office says will decline once the presumption against the use of PCB is removed.

Under the reforms that followed a consultation with forces and other stakeholders the Home Office proposes legislating to end the presumption against PCB, instead requiring it to be used where it is necessary and proportionate.

The reforms add a requirement that a custody officer should consider the following in deciding whether application of pre-charge bail is necessary and proportionate:

  •  The severity of the actual, potential or intended impact of the offence;
  • The need to safeguard victims of crime and witnesses, taking into account their
  • vulnerability;
  • The need to prevent further offending;
  • The need to manage risks of a suspect absconding; and
  • The need to manage risks to the public

The Home Office says that under the current system “there has been a huge burden” placed on Superintendents who are required to approve bail extensions should the investigation exceed 28 days, which is common.

“We think it is unwise to overburden Superintendents with bail approvals whilst they are juggling many other operational responsibilities,” it says.

The decision for approving the initial bail period will be made by the custody officer, who “has the necessary skills and experience in making risk-based decisions, as well as the independence from the investigation itself.”

Where it is necessary to extend bail, this will be decided by an Inspector at the 3-month stage and any further extensions will be approved by a Superintendent at the 6-month stage.

The Home Office says this will share out the administrative burden of extending bail periods and balances the need for swift and effective investigations against the practical difficulties of completing investigations within short timeframes.

The new model will continue to provide independent judicial oversight of the bail system through the Magistrates’ Court, which will authorise any extensions beyond 9 months, or beyond twelve months in particularly complex cases.

“This will ensure that the court is not overburdened with extensions at an early stage in the process but will still provide much-needed oversight of the bail regime,” the Home Office says.

The consultation concluded that  RUI is an “unsatisfactory process” which does not provide the necessary level of accountability around decision-making, communication with the suspect, victims and witnesses, and timescales for completing the investigation.

But it is not proposing to introduce any extra safeguards on the use of RUI on the grounds that by removing the presumption against bail, it expects the use of RUI “to drop significantly following these reforms.”

It adds: “As we expect the use of RUI to decline, we will not be introducing timescales into the RUI process and instead will work with the sector to limit the use of RUI going forward. In terms of other non-bail investigations, our intention is to work with policing partners on guidance on the voluntary attendance (VA) scheme to ensure that it is being used in an effective and proportionate manner.”

The Home Office says it acknowledges that the changes brought in by the Policing and Crime Act 2017, which introduced the presumption against using pre-charge bail,” has had a number of knock-on effects within the criminal justice system.”

It adds: “Whilst it achieved its aim of introducing safeguards for suspects who were being placed on bail for lengthy periods, it has inadvertently led to an increase in the number of people who are ‘released under investigation’ (RUI). Use of RUI has meant that there are suspects who are still under investigation for lengthy periods, but not subject to the oversight and reporting requirements that they would have under pre-charge bail.”

It says the reforms are intended to “remove the presumption” against the use of precharge bail and  create” a neutral position” within legislation so that there is neither a presumption for nor against PCB.

Figures released under freedom of information laws suggest some 97,000 suspects were released under investigation last year compared to around 6,000 in 2016, according to the Daily Telegraph.

Separate figures obtained by BBC’s Newsnight indicated almost 100,000 suspected violent criminals and sex offenders, including those accused of rape and murder, were released under investigation between April 2017 and October 2019.

Chief Constable Darren Martland, who leads the National Police Chiefs’ Council work on bail, said police would work to strike a balance between “protecting vulnerable victims and witnesses while upholding the rights of suspects” under the new rules.

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