The Law Society, the body that represents solicitors in England and Wales, has welcomed a Home Office consultation on plans to limit the use of pre-charge police bail to 28 days.
The police are currently able to keep people on pre-charge bail for an unlimited length of time. The consultation, launched on 17 December, is seeking views on proposals including a “clear expectation” that pre-charge bail should not last longer than 28 days.
Home Secretary Theresa May said the move would “prevent people spending months or even years on bail at a time that they have not even been charged with an offence”.
The consultation, which closes on 8 February, also asks for views on proposals that in some “exceptional” cases – often dealt with by specialist agencies such as the Serious Fraud Office or the National Crime Agency rather than the police – an exemption to the 28-day limit might apply, due to the large volume of evidence that needs to be analysed.
Law Society president Andrew Caplen welcomed proposals that requests to extend police bail would have to be heard before a court every three months.
He added: “The Law Society has been calling for a statutory limit on the length of time the police are able to keep suspects on bail, often with conditions, before they are charged with a criminal offence.
“Not only does keeping someone on police bail interfere with their liberty; it also means that police investigations can be protracted and slow, making the justice system less efficient and with a negative effect on complainants and witnesses.”
Palmers’ partner Jeremy Sirrell, who leads the firm’s criminal defence team, said:
“This is a welcome move that would help to avoid individuals remaining in a long-running legal limbo. The length of time that people can spend on police bail was recently highlighted by the case of DJ Paul Gambaccini, who was on bail for a year before being told in October 2014 that he would not be prosecuted over historic sex abuse allegations.”
“Whether or not a police investigation leads to a charge, seeking early expert legal advice is a wise investment to support the person involved during questioning and enable them to make informed decisions.
“Our criminal defence team works with clients only on a private basis, enabling us to devote all the time and attention necessary to best advise and represent individuals on police bail or after they have charged, with the objective of achieving the best outcome. For more information on our Criminal Defence services, please contact us.”