How Will The 28 Day Limit on Police Bail Effect Those Charged With Criminal Offences Such as Sexual Offences, Murder Manslaughter and Other Serious Crimes?
The police can hold a hold those arrested for up to 24 hours. In the more serious cases and subject to a senior police officer authorising it, the police can hold suspects for a further 12 hours (up to a maximum of 36 hours). If the police still do not have enough evidence to charge someone then they have to apply to a magistrates’ court for a warrant of further detention and subject to certain conditions being fulfilled the court can authorise the suspect’s detention for a maximum of 96 hours. On such an application the suspect has the right to be heard and oppose the application either personally or through solicitors.
In the vast majority of cases people those arrested are dealt with within the 24-hour period either by being charged and then being released on bail (conditional or unconditional) to attend court or being kept in police custody pending appearance at court the next day or bailed to return to the police station at a later date whilst the police continue with the investigation. The problem however is that at present there is no time limit on how long the police can keep suspects on bail for. One of my clients for example was arrested in June 2008 and eventually charged in February 2011- 2 years and 8 months later!!
In cases where the police need to examine mobile phones, laptops and other electronic equipment it is understandable that the police will need some time to carry out their enquiries before they can make a decision whether to charge or not. Generally speaking cases such as these (for example where the allegation is one of making or distributing indecent images of children) the suspect will be on bail for a minimum of 8-9 months before the police can make a decision whether to charge or not.
However even when it is blatantly clear that an individual will be charged the police can still take months. For example a client of mine who stole £70,000 from his employer admitted to his boss that he had stolen this sum by transferring the money to his own account. The employer contacted the police who subsequently arrested my client. In the interview at the police station my client made full admissions. He was arrested in February 2014 but not charged until October 2014 having been bailed and re-bailed a number of times.
The Home Secretary Theresa May’s recent announcement that the government is considering limiting time for which police can bail suspects to 28 days was therefore welcome news to lawyers and clients.
Where people are on police bail, but without any conditions, other then the uncertainty of not knowing what is going to happen, to a large extent they can get on with their lives. However for people who are on bail subject to conditions their lives are hugely disrupted because not only do they have the uncertainty of not knowing what’s going to happen and when they also have to abide by a number of stringent and onerous conditions which affects their daily life.
The conditions may for example impose a curfew, prohibit entering certain areas or they may restrict contacting certain individuals including members of their own family. Further they may have to surrender their passport to the police or live at a certain address etc. Although it is possible to apply to vary or remove police bail conditions, to the police and then to the court if necessary, the courts unfortunately are not able to do anything about how long the police keep people on bail for.
The government is currently considering how to deal with applications for police bail to be extended beyond the 28-day period. One suggestion is that the suspect should be able to challenge an extension of bail up to 3 months before a magistrate while others suggest that an extension should only require the authorisation of a senior police officer (not required at present). If the investigating officers merely need authorization from a senior officer then the reality unfortunately is that in most case that ‘authorisation’ is likely to be rubber-stamped.
The reality is that in some cases a limit of 28 days clearly will not be long enough for the police to conclude their investigations and for the more serious allegation (murder, any case where the evidence may be found on electronic equipment, or serious fraud cases which normally involve a huge amount of documentary evidence as well as computer/telephone evidence) the police will often need many months to investigate before a decision can be made whether to charge or not to charge. In such cases whether it is a senior police officer or the court that authorises the extension the reality is that it is likely to be granted in most such cases. It is the less serious cases where clients and/or their Criminal Defence Lawyers are likely to succeed in prevent the grant of an extension to police bail.
In all cases where the application has to be made either to the senior officer or the court at the very least we would be able to find out a little more about what stage the investigation has reached rather then being kept completely in the dark as we are at present and bail is simply extended without the police having to provide any information.