Police bail - Home Affairs Contents

3  Introducing a time limit on bail

16. There are no current time limits on pre-charge bail, and there is no limit on the number of times a suspect can be re-bailed. Individuals can spend months, or in some cases years, on bail, not knowing about the investigation and awaiting a decision over which they have no influence, while witnesses' memories and other evidence degrade.[29] Introducing a time limit could create an incentive for the police to carry out more thorough investigations before deciding to make an arrest, and use police bail less.[30]

17. We agree that an initial time limit for bail should be introduced. This would not be an absolute time limit, no one would be able to be released because they could not be charged in time. The time limit would require the police to explain the reasons for the investigation taking how long it was taking. It would reduce uncertainty for those involved, and encourage the police to carry out investigations in a timely fashion.

A 28-day limit on bail

18. The Government has proposed an initial time limit of 28 days, beyond which bail would only be extended in exceptional circumstances, or in particular circumstances that might be set out in either the legislation or in regulation. Paul Gambaccini said he would "enthusiastically support" a 28 day limit.[31] Conversely, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) response to the consultation said 28 days would be "wholly inappropriate and unworkable" and that it was concerned the police would send files prematurely to meet the time deadline, resulting in the CPS having to send the files back asking for further investigative work.[32] Similarly, Chris Eyre of ACPO thought that "28 days would be unhelpful as a limit."[33] Chief Constable Eyre said the police were already reducing the inappropriate use of bail through the application of a necessity test at the point where bail was applied and a proportionality test about the time period for bail and the conditions applied, depending on the circumstances.[34]

19. We recommend that there should be a time limit on bail and agree with the proposal for an initial time limit of 28 days.


20. It is recognised that some investigations take a long time. There are understandable reasons why the collection of evidence is not straightforward, for example in complex fraud cases, cases involving gathering evidence from overseas, some cases involving extensive and complex forensic evidence, cases involving the retrieval of digital evidence, or evidence to be retrieved from local and central government departments.[35] Exemptions could be made for such complicated cases, possibly according to the type of offence, or the exceptional nature of that case compared to others of that offence. The CPS said there would be benefits in exempting certain classes of casework that are complex, such as serious and complex fraud, non-recent child sexual exploitation and counter-terrorism prosecutions.[36] The police would have to apply to the magistrates' court for the exemption to apply.[37]

21. Any application for an extension to pre-charge bail on exceptional grounds should be made to the magistrates' courts.

Decision to re-bail

22. Current practice around re-bail lacks transparency and accountability. The CPS response to the Home Office consultation said:

    Much of the mischief with police bail and its conditions is that they are seemingly not periodically reviewed and the suspect is left in limbo with often little information as to the progress of the investigation, other than the fact that their bail has been extended.[38]

23. The Home Office proposal for a time limit of 28 days is not an absolute limit. The suspect could still be re-bailed at 28 days, and the review at 28 days would provide the opportunity to reduce that sense of limbo. The two proposed models are illustrated in the table below. In both Model 1 and Model 2, the decision to extend bail after 28 days would be made by the police, but by someone independent of the investigation and at least the rank of an Inspector. The options differ at three months, where the decision to re-bail is reviewed by the police, a Chief Superintendent (Model 2), or the Magistrates' Court (Model 1).
Cumulative Total Period from 'Relevant Time'
Model 1 Bail
Model 2 Bail
First Bail period of 28 days
Extension up to 3 months
Magistrates' Court
Chief Superintendent
Extension up to 12 months (3 months per extension)
Magistrates' Court
Beyond 12 months
(3 months per extension)
Crown Court

24. The decision to re-bail could be reviewed again at three month intervals, in both options by the Magistrates' Courts, until 12 months.[39] At this point, any further extension would be for three months, but the authorisation would need to be sought from the Crown Court. The CPS preferred Model 2, as it would place less of an additional burden on the courts. Kate Goold supported Model 1, as it introduced judicial oversight earlier, but she did agree that review by a senior police officer, independent of the investigation, would be an improvement on the current situation. She said it would be "clearly impossible" for every investigation to be resolved within 28 days. Therefore, she supported a 28 day limit, reviewed at first by a superintendent, followed by periodic review by magistrates at three months, and by the Crown Court at twelve months.[40] Chris Eyre said that ACPO's view was that the extension of bail should be decided by the police until six months—only 2% of arrests result in a person being on bail for more than six months—and after six months the review should be before a magistrate.[41]

25. The consultation sets out what the reviewing officer, magistrate or judge would have to consider when deciding if to allow bail: reasonable grounds to suspect the person of committing the offence, the need for further investigation, that the investigation is being conducted diligently and expeditiously, and that bail remains necessary (e.g. to prevent the suspect from interfering with witnesses). It also said that if the law on pre-charge bail were changed, then guidance could be issued as to how the review might consider the conditions of bail. There would be no recourse to appeal the decision at any review, except by way of judicial review.

26. The review should not become a rubber stamping exercise, the onus should be on the police to persuade the court that a further period of bail is necessary and proportionate. We recommend the decision to re-bail at three months should be on application to a magistrates' court. In the small proportion of cases where the police seek to extend pre-charge bail beyond six months, the application for re-bail should be to the Crown Court.

27. It is important that the review process enables the bail subject to challenge the proposal for further bail, and to receive information as to progress in the investigation against them.

29   Kate Goold written evidence Back

30   Q 56 Back

31   Q 18 Back

32   CPS Response to the Home Office's Consultation on Police Bail Back

33   Q 67 Back

34   Q 67 Back

35   CPS Response to the Home Office's Consultation on Police Bail Back

36   CPS Response to the Home Office's Consultation on Police Bail Back

37   "An application to the magistrates' court would be required for the exemption to apply, although where it were sought because an investigation was of a listed offence, it should be capable of being dealt with on the papers (i.e. without an oral hearing)." Back

38   CPS Response to the Home Office's Consultation on Police Bail Back

39   Section 127(1) Magistrates' Courts Act 1980 states that summary offences must be charged within 6 months Back

40   Q 24, Qq 44-45 Back

41   Q 92 Back

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© Parliamentary copyright 2015
Prepared 20 March 2015