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Defence solicitors concerned by 28-day bail limit

Defence solicitors concerned by 28-day bail limit


New restriction 'so short' police will be reluctant to grant bail at all, predicts Hodge Jones & Allen partner

Criminal solicitors are concerned by Home Office plans to restrict the use of bail in England and Wales for suspects who have not been charged.

The Police and Crime Bill will introduce a 28-day limit designed to reduce the time people spend on police bail. However, the College of Policing has told the BBC that the proposals could lead to suspects being placed under investigation by one force without the knowledge others around the country.

Research by the BBC in 2013 found that 3,000 people had been on bail for more than six months.

Ruth Harris, a criminal defence partner at Hodge Jones & Allen, said that defence lawyers also have concerns about the 'unintended consequences' of the proposals, although for different reasons.

'Going from a system with no restriction, the 28-day bail limit is so short '“ particularly in matters with forensic analysis or large quantities of data to be considered '“ that police will be reluctant to bail at all,' she said.

'The mischief these proposals aimed to stem is the police habit of not dealing with investigations expeditiously. Suspects could be endlessly bailed and there was no method by which this could be challenged.

'The unintended consequence of the proposed change is that many suspects will simply not be bailed at all. Enquiries will continue, but they will be left in limbo as to the state of the investigation.'

Harris explained that suspects will have 'no date to work towards '“ however illusory '“ when the case will be resolved'.

'They will simply leave the police station after interview with the 'whiff of suspect' hanging round them and no idea as to when they can expect to be considered clean,' she added. 'This must be a concern for suspects and victims, who will both be concerned to know when matters will be resolved.'

The length of police bail has come under criticism following several high-profile arrests, such as that of the BBC broadcaster Paul Gambaccini, who was on bail for almost a year. He has described the system as a 'misuse' of police powers.

Speaking to Solicitors Journal earlier this year, Gambaccini said: 'There are two features of bail that were noteworthy. The first was that the police, although they always deny it, somehow managed to allow my name to slip into the public domain.

'I have never accused my actual case officers of leaking my name, but I very much resent the police protesting too much that they never reveal the names of their suspects, because the only alternative is that tabloid reporters have ESP.'