Bail overhaul will be a ‘massive and challenging change'

03 April 2017

PFEW Duputy General Secretary Andy Ward

PFEW Duputy General Secretary Andy Ward

Changes to pre-charge bail will challenge custody staff and be a massive change in custody culture, the Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW) today warns.

The caution comes as the biggest shake up in police bail in 32 years comes into force today (3 April 2017).

Pre-charge bail will be capped at 28 days in the biggest overhaul of bail arrangements in the entire history of PACE (the Police and Criminal Evidence Act).

But, PFEW’s Deputy General Secretary and Custody Lead Andy Ward has warned: “Release without bail will be the default position – unless bail is necessary and proportionate. One problem is that the Home Office does not spell out what is ‘proportionate’. It will be a massive change in custody culture and be a considerable challenge.”

The 28-day time limit is ‘unrealistic’ for complex investigations, added Mr Ward. “Cyber-crime, for example, requires computers to be seized and equipment to be interrogated to gain evidence. The results for detailed forensic tests also take some time to come back.”  Pre-charge bail protected victims and witnesses and also helped to prevent further offending, he said.

The full impact of the new bail provisions – introduced through the new Policing and Crime Act 2017 - is likely to be felt the most by custody sergeants and investigators.

The authority of an inspector or above will now be required to grant pre-charge bail up to 28 days – with further extensions requiring higher levels of authority for exceptional circumstances. Police seeking extensions beyond three months will now also need to apply to a magistrate.

The reforms have been brought in after existing provisions were criticised for keeping suspects on bail indefinitely, waiting to hear whether or not they would be charged. The Home Office released documents showing that up to 4,000 people each year had to wait on bail for 12 months or more for a charging decision.  

But the measures have already been dubbed a ‘paper tiger’ by a leading law firm, which says that in reality an already overstretched police service will encounter additional administrative burdens and paperwork.

The measures come at a time when poor morale, staff shortages and high levels of stress and sickness absence have become an increasing problem for the custody world. Fluctuating shift patterns, lack of vital equipment and training gaps have also been identified by PFEW’s Custody Forum.