BAIL legislation needs to be reconsidered after changes made in 2017 have led to unnecessarily long investigations, Hampshire Police Federation has said.
A joint inspection by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services (HMICFRS) and HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate (HMCPSI) found that the 2017 bail legislation led to longer investigations, as well as the potential of increased risk to victims and uncertainty for suspects.
Then-Prime Minister Theresa May’s changes to the Police and Crime Act 2017 included allowing suspects to be released under investigation (RUI) as an alternative to formal bail. The legislation was put through quickly, despite police chiefs, the Police Federation of England and Wales (PFEW) and the College of Policing highlighting the risks.
Hampshire Police Federation Chair Zoë Wakefield said: “I was working in custody when the changes came in and we all felt at the time that they were not going to work. And there have been so many issues with it.
“Maybe it needed reviewing, but it certainly didn’t need the wholesale changes that were made. I now think it’s time for changes to be made and us to go back to some of the bail legislation that we had before.”
There had been problems with implementing the new legislation in Hampshire, Zoë added.
She said: “We’ve had huge problems releasing people under investigation and then there’s no time frame. But when someone was released on bail, there was a bail date to come back.
“So it made the whole system work towards that bail date, whereas when someone’s released under investigation with no end date then there’s no onus on anyone, whether that’s the officer in the case, the forensic element of the case, anybody involved in the whole prosecution chain, because there’s no date to work to.
“I think that’s where victims have been let down, because investigations have dragged on unnecessarily. Whereas when people were on bail, every time the bail date came up it’s then reviewed and there’s much more control over the investigation. That’s all been lost.”
The new report found that not enough thought was given to how the changes would affect victims, and RUI has left too many victims without the reassurance and protection of previous bail conditions. It said suspects were still faced with lengthy delays and that the changes were inconsistently implemented by forces due to a lack of clear guidance.
HM Inspector of Constabulary Zoë Billingham said: “We know from commissioned research that bail conditions give victims reassurance. Most victims who shared their experiences as part of this inspection were clear that they felt safer with bail in place.
“Our inspection found that policing was ill-prepared to put into practice the changes to bail legislation made in 2017. Forces were not given adequate guidance, which resulted in a range of interpretations of the legislation across England and Wales. These changes also had negative unintended consequences for victims as well as suspects.
“We found that in many cases of domestic abuse and stalking, suspects are released under investigation instead of being formally bailed with conditions. This is very worrying because of the high harm and risk associated with these types of crime, and it is clear through our research that victims of domestic abuse feel less safe since the changes were made.”
She added: “The Home Office has recently completed a public consultation on these issues. We have added our inspection findings to this consultation. We urge all involved in revising the legislation to reflect on the findings of our report and ensure any changes better balances the needs of all those in the Criminal Justice System.”
PFEW Chair John Apter has previously written about the legislation, saying: “We warned the 2017 changes would be restrictive, unrealistic and reckless. And they have been.”