Calls for Reform to Police Bail as Backlog Branded 'Democratic Disgrace'

© Sputnik / Vladimir Rodionov / Go to the photo bankHaving over 70,000 people being held in the legal limbo known as ‘pre-charge’ or police bail with unlimited restrictions placed on them “is a disgrace in a democratic society,” Professor in Journalism Roy Greenslade has told Sputnik News.
Having over 70,000 people being held in the legal limbo known as ‘pre-charge’ or police bail with unlimited restrictions placed on them “is a disgrace in a democratic society,” Professor in Journalism Roy Greenslade has told Sputnik News. - Sputnik International
Prominent British figures have signed an open letter calling on the Home Office to reform pre-charge bail and define its time frame. A recent study shows that 5,930 people in England and Wales spent more than six months on pre-charge bail.

LONDON, December 02 (Sputnik), Mark Hirst – Having over 70,000 people being held in the legal limbo known as ‘pre-charge’ or police bail with unlimited restrictions placed on them “is a disgrace in a democratic society,” Professor in Journalism Roy Greenslade has told Sputnik News.

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“Pre-charge police bail is iniquitous. Either the police have evidence or they don’t. They should not arrest people ‘on suspicion’ of having broken the law. To have more than 70,000 people in limbo is a disgrace in a democratic society,” Greenslade told Sputnik.

Introduced 30 years ago in England and Wales pre-charge bail limits the freedoms of criminal suspects whilst police carry out investigations. Individuals can be placed on pre-charge bail, with numerous restrictions placed on their movements and freedoms, for months and in some cases years before police decide whether to charge them with an offence or not.

On Tuesday a campaign was launched with the backing of a cross-party group of MPs and senior public figures calling for a time cap to be placed on pre-charge bail of 28 days with a judge, rather than police officers, determining conditions attached to the bail.

“Police bail is an important part of the criminal justice process,” Paul Ford of the Police Federation – the staff association representing police officers in England and Wales – told Sputnik.

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“Police bail is granted by a highly trained and experienced Police Custody Sergeant. Bail decisions are also part of the investigative process that is frequently agreed with the Crown Prosecution Service.

The bail process is subject to regular and ongoing reviews,” Ford added.

Ford claimed that it was in the interests of justice that time was taken to gather sufficient evidence.

“It must also be recognised that when a person is bailed, this is usually for forensics and other complicated matters that are needed to either confirm or disprove a suspect's involvement in an offence. It is clearly in the interests of justice that a thorough investigation takes places for victims and suspects,” Ford added.

Ford told Sputnik that austerity measures imposed by the UK Government with cuts to manpower and resources were exacerbating the problem.

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“We have 16,000 fewer police officers in the force since 2010, which is also a factor in the pressure and demand faced by colleagues with delaying investigations,” Ford told Sputnik.

But Greenslade, who is a Professor at City University London and one of the public figure signatories to a joint open letter calling on the Home Office to reform pre-charge bail, dismissed the Police Federation’s claims that austerity measures lay behind the backlog.

“Cuts to policing sound like an excuse rather than a reason,” Greenslade told Sputnik.

A recent freedom of information release revealed that whilst 71,526 people in England and Wales had been held on bail between July and September 2014, 5,930 of those had been on one pre-charge bail for more than six months.

Among the signatories calling for changes to pre-charge bail are former Home Office Minister Damien Green and Sir Edward Garnier, the former Solicitor General.

Theresa May, the UK Home Secretary, said she is holding a consultation on the issue.

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