The Policing and Crime Act 2017 gained Royal Assent on January 31. By setting time restrictions for police bail, the Act makes major modifications to present pre-charge bail regulations. The act enacts a number of changes to existing rules involving PCCs, complaints through the IPCC and also makes amendments to PACE 1984.

Some of the Key Changes Are:
  • There is a presumption of release without bail unless the necessity and proportionality criteria are met.
  • Where these criteria are met a maximum 28 day period of pre-charge bail can be granted by an Inspector.
  • This period can be further extended to a period of three months by a Superintendent.
  • An applicable bail period (ABP) will be set by the authorising officer and this is the window of time in which a custody officer may set and vary bail.
  • The Applicable Bail Period can only be further extended by a Magistrates’ Court upon application by the police.
  • There are longer time limits for cases designated as ‘exceptionally complex’ for example SFO investigations.

These provisions are not applicable when a suspect is bailed for CPS advice under section 37 (7)(a) of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. In this case, the custody officer retains the power to grant bail under such circumstances.

In situations where a suspect is initially bailed for further enquires but is then referred to the CPS for a charging decision, the ABP Clock will be suspended. Should the CPS request further police work as a part of the investigation, the ABP clock will resume.

Why do we Need Time Limits for Police Bail?

With several long high-profile investigations, such as Cliff Richard and Paul Gambaccini, the length of time someone spends on police bail has come under heightened attention in recent years. Long bail terms have been raised in recent cases, and it’s understandable that this generates a great deal of stress and anxiety for people who haven’t been charged with a crime. Long police investigations have a substantial influence on crime victims since they have matters ‘hanging over them,’ which cannot be in the interests of justice for either party.

Does the Act go Far Enough?

In essence, no, because the Act does not go far enough. The Act does not prescribe a maximum time limit for police investigations since the police can return to the Magistrates’ Court to seek additional extensions of time. It is unclear how the Magistrates’ Court will handle these applications, but courts frequently rely on the police’s assertions when dealing with other police applications, such as warrants for extended detention.

The clock will stop when the police refer the case to the Crown Prosecution Service for a charging decision. This phase of CPS assessment might be lengthy in and of itself.

Furthermore, where a suspect is never placed on police bail, the Act does not apply. Many suspects are examined under oath but never arrested or bailed pending additional investigations by the police. With no time restrictions for police investigations, the situation for such individuals will remain constant, which will do nothing to alleviate the worry that many people experience when they are under investigation for long periods of time, which can over time cause long term psychological damage.