Four years ago we hosted a meeting at the Law Society at which radio presenter Paul Gambaccini described the horrific impact on his mental and physical health of the year he spent as a suspect on police bail for sexual assault. His career was put on hold as restrictions on his freedom were imposed by bail conditions. Mr Gambaccini’s high profile campaign persuaded the then Home Secretary to review police bail provisions and on 3rd April 2017 the Policing and Crime Act came into force which introduced a 28 day time limit on police bail. Should an investigator require further time to complete an investigation they would have to apply to a superintendent for an extension of up to a maximum of three months.
Tight police resources meant that it was unrealistic to complete many investigations within that 28 day period or utilise time seeing extensions from superintendents. The only workaround for this provision was to simply “release suspects under investigation”.
In the two years since the introduction of the statutory changes thousands of suspects are in a position that is arguably worse than that experienced by Paul Gambaccinni as they face uncertainty without time limits or constraints on the police. Complainants in criminal cases are also facing similar issues as their cases drift into the long grass. Very often if a decision to charge is made many months past the police interview the suspect has moved home and has lost contact with their solicitor. Postal requisitions do not reach their intended recipient and cause additional delays to the court system and extra work for the police.
There can be terrible consequences for whole families. For example an individual under investigation for possession with intent to supply was released under investigation for an entire year. Because of this outstanding criminal matter, his family’s application for leave to remain was rejected. Others have had their electronic devices retained by police for over a year while under investigation with no access to important work documents.
This is a major issue that is impacting on so many elements of the Criminal Justice System, however, it is very difficult to quantify. We therefore need your help to provide a defence perspective on the extent of the problem.
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