Bail Before Charge

The Policing and Crime Bill now before Parliament will hopefully shorten the time you can be kept on pre charge bail.

At present, there is no limit on how long you can be kept on bail; all too often, overworked police  or CPS let cases go dormant until the defence solicitor calls and then the suspect is "re-bailed".  Suspects on pre-charge bail therefore face an agonising, undetermined wait to see whether they will face criminal charges.  Those on conditional bail may face additional restrictions on their liberty such as a prohibition on living at home or travel bans.    The triviality of a case does not necessarily mean it will be dealt with quickly, and police can re-bail suspects just because they have not got on with their inquiries.     Innocent people are all too often left in an uncomfortable limbo, as notoriously happened in Operation Yewtree.  Here, Jimmy Tarbuck, Jim Davidson and Paul Gambaccini were all kept on bail for close to a year until the cases were dropped.

The Policing and Crime Bill will put a normal time-limit of 28 days on pre-charge bail.     In complex cases, an extension of three months can be granted by a senior police officer, and very exceptionally there can be an extension beyond three months, if ordered by the Magistrates Court and the following criteria are met:

  • Additional time is needed to obtain evidence to enable a charging decision to be made; and
  • The investigation is being carried out diligently and expeditiously; and
  • Bail remains both necessary and proportionate.

Investigations conducted by the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) have an initial time-limit of three months given their default serious nature.  Exceptionally, bail in serious cases such as those conducted by the SFO or a Complex Casework Unit of the CPS can be administratively extended to a total of six months with a final application to Court being available (upon satisfaction of the above three criteria).

None of this would however have helped Sir Cliff Richard.    In August 2014 Sir Cliff's property was searched by South Yorkshire police who tipped off BBC reporters so they could video and broadcast the raid.   He was out of the country at the time and only later questioned about alleged historic sex offences.  With Sir Cliff's life effectively suspended, it would not be until 16 June 2016, nearly two years after the investigation began that the CPS found insufficient evidence to bring a case.  Because he was abroad at the time of the raid, he was not arrested and so not bailed; the proposed restrictions on bail would not have applied.

Saunders Law is suing South Yorkshire police on behalf of over 400 Hillsborough victims for misfeasance in public office, so we wish Sir Cliff well in his parallel claim.

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