Last month, the Law Society’s Criminal Law Committee raised the issue of ‘extensive’ police bail times. It is a problem that has become increasingly common over the past decade, with defendants being arrested and released on police bail, only to be left on bail for months or even years. Understandably it is not always possible to charge a defendant in the days after arrest but there is rising concern that police are leaving defendants, in what has now been dubbed as, ‘indefinite legal limbo’. Defendants on police bail find that their lives, careers, and plans are all put on hold for the duration of the police investigation.
Police bail can have a huge impact on a defendant’s livelihood and employment. It is important to bear in mind that those on bail may not have even been charged with an offence and may, as is often the case, be later released without charge. Last year, figures were obtained through ‘Freedom of Information Act Requests’ from 34 of 44 police forces which revealed that 57,428 people were on police bail with 3,172 people having remained on police bail for more than 6 months.
A prime example, of the devastating impact that remaining on police bail for a considerable time can have, is the case of Neil Wallis. Mr Wallis, the former deputy editor of the News of the World, was arrested on suspicion of phone hacking in 2011. He was arrested and released on police bail, which he remained on for 19 months before being released with no charge. A statement in respect of this was made to the press at the time which detailed the disruption and devastation that this had caused to Mr Wallis. It was confirmed that he had lost his job, and whilst on police bail was ‘unemployable’, this had an impact on his home, family and personal life. In the wake of his case, it was revealed that of the 63 UK journalists that were arrested in relation to the phone hacking scandal, 12 had remained on police bail for more than one year.
Freddie Starr was also subjected to the same length of police bail as Mr Wallis whilst the police investigated allegations made against him for sexual offences. He was initially arrested in November 2012, released on bail and then re-arrested three more times before eventually being released without charge last month. In the interim, whilst he has been on bail, his entire life will have seemingly been put on hold. This is incredibly unjust, especially when at the end of the 19 month period; no charges have been brought against him.
This is not just a detrimental issue for defendants, genuine victims who have come forward and built up the courage to report the crime then have to wait for months on end before anything occurs. One can only imagine what runs through their minds.
In response to the apparent increase in the amount of people being left ‘dangling’ on police bail, the Law Society’s Criminal Law Committee have invited a review on the bail regulations, asking for bail to come under the same rules and guidelines as detention in a police station, currently governed by the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. Those familiar with PACE will be aware that the police are only allowed to detain suspects for a maximum period of 24 hours (for the majority of cases), before the detention is reviewed for extension. However there is no maximum limit on the length of time someone could remain on bail, nor are there any rules in respect of the number of times a suspect can be re-bailed without review from the Court.
Richard Atkinson, chair of the Law Society’s Criminal Law Committee, is of the belief that people are left ‘in the wilderness’ whilst the police determine whether they should be charged with a crime. He has suggested a police bail limit of 28 days stating;
‘I would call for a 28-day statutory maximum period for police bail. But it could be extended by applying to a magistrate. There, police would have to explain what stage they were at in their investigation and why a further 28-day extension of bail was necessary. There’s an attitude among some officers to put off until tomorrow’.
Being charged with any crime is a frightening and difficult experience. If you have been accused of a crime in any capacity, it is vital that you speak to a criminal defence solicitor at the earliest opportunity. Early advice is often crucial. At Farleys we have a specialist team of criminal defence solicitors who can provide advice and representation 24 hours a day, 7 days a week on all areas of crime. For 24 hour advice via our emergency crime line, call 01254 606050.