Government announces plans to review pre-charge bail law

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The government intends to review pre-charge bail legislation to ensure the safety of victims is prioritised and police are supported in investigating all offences.

Pre-charge bail allows police to release a suspect from custody, usually subject to conditions, while officers continue their investigation or await a charging decision.

Reforms made in 2017 limited the length of pre-charge bail to an initial 28 days and required that the extension of bail conditions for up to three months should be authorised by a senior officer. This was intended to prevent suspects being left for lengthy periods under restrictive bail conditions without being charged. The review will scrutinise the system to see how it can be improved.

The Home Office will consider updating the rules to better support police officers investigating crimes and ensure that pre-charge bail is being used where most appropriate – including where conditions are needed to protect victims and witnesses, such as in domestic abuse cases.

Home Secretary Priti Patel said:

I’m committed to giving the police the support they need to protect the public from harm – as well as supporting victims and witnesses.

This review will ensure we put the needs of victims first and help the police investigate complex crimes whilst also continuing to make sure cases are able to be dealt with swiftly.

In detail, the review would look to:

  • ensure the proper use of bail to protect victims and witnesses
  • support the police in the timely management of investigations, whether a suspect is released on bail or without bail (known as ‘released under investigation’)
  • respect the rights of suspects, victims and witnesses to timely decisions and updates
  • ensure pre-charge bail supports the timely progression of cases to courts
  • design simplified and flexible rules to support effective operational decisions

Today’s announcement follows guidance issued by the National Police Chiefs’ Council to frontline officers earlier this year stressing the importance of using pre-charge bail, including in high harm cases.

Police can apply and extend pre-charge bail as investigations continue should they believe conditions are still necessary.

Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services and Her Majesty’s Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate are conducting an inspection of how police forces manage changes to bail and are expected to publish their findings next year.

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