The National Police Chiefs’ Council has issued new guidance for officers in relation to the use of pre-charge bail following the changes made by the Policing and Crime Act 2017.
The impact of the changes contained within the Act was a reduction in the use of bail, with suspects instead being released under investigation. In the six months following the introduction of the new legislation, use of bail fell by 75% and 65% in domestic abuse cases. The number of defendants remanded on bail by the police before appearing in court decreased by 24% in December 2018, with the number of defendants remanded in custody decreasing by 7%.
“New operational guidance issued to officers reinforces the importance of conducting investigations as quickly as possible. It will help officers consider the vulnerabilities of each case and determine the appropriate course of action”
The guidance is an interim response and is intended to “reinforce the message that in the right circumstances, the use of pre-charge bail is still a legitimate investigative and safeguarding tool”.
The consideration of whether or not to apply bail must take in to account all the circumstances of the case, including the necessity to support and protect victims and witnesses and ensure public safety. When considering supporting and protecting witnesses, vulnerable witnesses at a high risk of harm should be given specific consideration.
The guidance is designed to assist officers and staff in making clear and effective risk based decisions in relation to suspects and witnesses when using pre-charge bail or released under investigation during the course of their investigations.
The guidance also provides assistance with the applicable bail periods that can be authorised with by the police and the circumstances in which extensions can be sought. The guidance outlines the roles and responsibilities of various members of the police in relation to investigations and the imposition of bail.
Pre-charge bail must not be used as a punishment. Bail managers are required to ensure that bail is necessary and proportionate. The decision making process must be transparent, and the need for bail must be commensurate with the investigative plan as it develops.
Pre-charge bail may be considered necessary if it is:
Pre-charge bail may be considered proportionate if the condition is not used unfairly, and it is limited to the minimum of what is required to achieve a legitimate policing purpose. Any condition must be proportionate to the aim being pursued.
Three main applicable bail periods can be authorised by the police. They are:
Any other extension requires authorisation by a magistrates’ court and at such a hearing the suspect and/or legal representative must be allowed to make representations.
The guidance reminds officers to quality assure the forms used when making applications to magistrates and provides ways in which that quality assurance can be met.
The Custody officer and/or supervisor will ensure that there is an effective risk management strategy for the suspect and assist the investigating officer in determining whether bail should be imposed.
If a suspect has been arrested in connection with an offence involving vulnerable people or domestic abuse (“high harm cases”) the decision making process behind not using pre-charge bail should be documented. Serious consideration should be given to the imposition of bail with conditions attached in order to safeguard victims and witnesses. Officers are advised to consult a detective inspector before suspects in domestic abuse of “high harm” cases are released under investigation.
Where pre-charge bail does not satisfy the necessity or proportionality tests, a custody officer must release the suspect without bail. They will be released under investigation (RUI). Prior to that release, a risk assessment must be documented. The risk assessment is designed to manage the risks that RUI will have on victims and witnesses. A custody officer can request and record the observations of a detective inspector in domestic abuse or “high harm” cases.
The threat, risk or harm associated with the investigation must be proportionately managed and the safeguarding of all persons linked to the investigation must be taken in to account.
Suggested good practice where a suspect has been released under investigation is that a documented supervisory review of the investigation takes place at least every 30 days until completion and a disposal actioned. The supervisor will be responsible for reviewing and setting the post-custody investigation ‘Expected Finish Date’. Where safeguarding may be an issue and the case is therefore a high priority, it should be reviewed by a Sargent every 10 days. At each review, the Investigating Officer will provide updates to the suspect, their legal advisor and the alleged victim.
A review is conducted by an Inspector after 3 months, and by a Superintendent after 6 months. This is to ensure RUI suspects are subject to appropriate review and management supervision. The new guidance should provide the impetus for more expedient investigation, and reduce the number of people released under investigation.
This imposition of bail conditions to those who are yet to be charged could potentially reduce the risk to witnesses in domestic abuse cases, whilst also allowing for more efficient investigation – reducing the number of people living under a cloud of suspicion whilst investigations are completed.
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