On 29 May 2020 JUSTICE responded to the Home Office consultation on pre-charge bail.
JUSTICE recognises the concerns raised with the current regime, namely that:
- pre-charge bail is not always being used by the police in circumstances where it would be appropriate to do so;
- there has been a significant reduction in the use of pre-charge bail, mirrored by a marked increase in release without bail – release under investigation (‘RUI’); and
- investigation times have increased as RUI is being used for longer periods of time than pre-charge bail, which negatively impacts complainants and suspects as under RUI there are is no obligation for the police to keep those affected by the investigation up to date on progress, leading to uncertainty.
However, we do not agree that the proposals will change decision-making practices and improve the effectiveness and efficiency of police investigation, or help protect victims and the rights of those under investigation. These proposals do not address the root causes of the issues they seek to fix.
Our briefing identified five main concerns with the reform proposals:
- Removing the perceived presumption against the use of pre-charge bail is unnecessary and will have no material effect on police practices or the decision-making process;
- The risk factors a constable must have regard to when considering if bail is necessary and proportionate are poorly worded and lack specificity. They also require the officer to make determinations beyond their powers;
- The three models for governing bail timescales and authorisations provide the police with an unfettered level of autonomy over the investigation process with less oversight from senior ranking officers or magistrates. Extending the timescales for when authorisation or an extension must be sought will not re-incentivise the use of bail, but will instead lead to lengthier investigations.
- Non-statutory frameworks for supervising RUI and voluntary attendance cases will not help reduce the length of investigations. For as long as they remain unregulated by statute, they will remain a more attractive option than bail, and therefore not remedy the underuse of bail and overuse of RUI; and
- Making breach of bail conditions a criminal offence in itself is not acceptable and may lead to unjustifiable outcomes for suspects.