The scandal of endless bail


John Kersey

Writing in today’s Guardian, Neil Wallis calls for an end to the present situation whereby thousands of people have been on police bail for over six months. The Birmingham Post reported that 57,000 people are currently on bail, and of these, 3,172 have been waiting for more than six months with no decision on whether they will be charged or not. One person remains on bail having been arrested over three and a half years ago.

The Law Society has called for a review and has said there should be a statutory time limit for police bail, suggesting a maximum of 28 days. This could be extended by application to a magistrate in which the police would need to explain what stage their investigation had reached and why extension was necessary. Other groups have suggested a longer maximum than this.

Police cuts are one reason why bail times are being extended. Another is suggested by Wallis, “The level of “reasonable suspicion” needed by police to make an arrest is simply far too low. I hear time and again about ordinary people being arrested and kept on endless bail so police can mount a fishing expedition into their lives.”

We have recently written about the Emma West case as an example of “trial by process” – whereby the mechanism of the law is sufficiently drawn-out to place the accused under a pressure that is in itself punitive. Here is more of the same.

A related issue is the increasing use of conditional bail by the police against activists who are arrested and then bailed on strict conditions before an event at which they would be likely to be present. This was used at the Olympics and again at the wedding of Prince William. Conditional bail allows the police to impose conditions – for example, not going within 500 yards of a given place at a given time – that would otherwise be legal; breaking those conditions then becomes a criminal offence. The charges are then, in most cases, quietly dropped once the event is over. It used to be the case that conditional bail could only be given by a magistrate; this power was extended to the police under the Police and Justice Act 2006 schedule 6, which amended section 30 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984.

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5 responses to “The scandal of endless bail

  1. Sometimes even the Guardian newspaper is correct.
    Relying on the good will (the sense of decency) of people in the legal system of England and Wales has failed – both in political cases (and the case of Emma West is political – rudeness on a bus is not a crime) and nonpolitical cases.

    There must be clear rules – time limits and so on.

    “But Paul that is Scots Law type thinking”.

    If it is, it is – the informal (basically trust based) English-Welsh legal system has become a farce. I know a man who was driven to a nervous breakdown by it (and that was in a nonpolticial case – and over a matter for which he was quite innocent, indeed the victim of an obvious, indeed crude, effort to frame him).

    Things must now be set out from clear first principles (no “we will adapt to the circumstances over time…..”) and proceed with clear rules that can be understood by ordinary subjects of the Crown.

  2. I remember Lorrain Osman-on remand for seven years. The Scots are wiser than us in this respect.

  3. Yes Mark – at least the principles of Scots law are (which are rather older than the modern Scots).

  4. Edward Spalton

    This would appear to be a back door way of introducing something not unlike the Roman law category of “suspected person under investigation”. At least they are not being detained without charge in “investigative custody” as can happen in continental systems.
    I have come across several cases where “the process is the punishment”. One was an eminently respectable friend, a member of the Countryside Alliance, who was arrested, banged up for nine hours and released without charge – a most unpleasant experience.
    The others, notified by the Christian Institute, were people accused or suspected of “hate crime” – such as expressing unfavourable opinions about homosexuality or even Scientology were treated in a. similar way. The Christian Institute has a fighting fund for such cases which has been successful in claiming damages from the police in a number of cases

  5. I wish I could argue against what you say here Mr Spalton – but I can not. The facts are very much on your side. It appears that the legal system here is copying the bad parts of the Continental systems whilst leaving out the good parts.