By Namita, Aug 4 2017 11:26AM
We are all now aware of a change in the law which came into effect in April 2017 limiting the period during which a person may be kept on bail without being charged by the police. This was promulgated by the Government as a crack-down on situations, some of which attracted widespread publicity, where people were held in “limbo” for an inordinate length of time awaiting decisions on their cases with all the emotional and psychological difficulties that naturally follow. However, as is so often the case the reality does not always match the hype.
In short, since 3rd April 2017 a person arrested may be released on bail – the date of release being known as the “bail start date” - subject to an “applicable bail period” which has a maximum of 28 days. (In certain “designated” cases this extends to 3 months.) This is particularly relevant where conditions are attached to bail.
The applicable bail period can be extended by a “senior officer” – usually a Superintendent or above – to a maximum of 3 months from the bail start date.
There are 4 statutory conditions to be met before that can be done:
A. The “decision-maker” (in standard cases, the Superintendent) must have reasonable grounds for suspecting that the person is guilty of the relevant offence;
B. S/he must have grounds for believing that the additional time is needed either to make a charging decision or that further investigation is needed of any matter in connection with the relevant offence;
C. S/he must have grounds for believing that the investigation or charging decision is being considered “diligently and expeditiously”;
D. S/he must have reasonable grounds for believing that the extension is “necessary and proportionate in all the circumstances (having regard, in particular, to any conditions of bail that have been imposed)”.
It is possible that, even with that extension the police may still want more time; in such cases they may apply to a Magistrates’ Court for a further extension, up to a maximum of 6 months from the bail start date (and in some cases, up to 9 months, where even more additional time is required in relation to the investigation or charging decision); if that happens, the Court applies the same conditions except Condition A - there is no obligation to have reasonable grounds for suspecting that the suspect is guilty of the offence. (Statutory time limits in summary proceedings will of course continue to apply.)
The initial application may be considered on paper only by a single justice of the peace – not necessarily a District Judge – although the person in question may request an oral hearing.
The Court may extend that date even further on a subsequent application; the maximum extension period then is 6 months. How that is to be approached remains to be seen given that we are still within 6 months of the implementation of the power.
The law allows for late applications by the police but only if the Court is satisfied that it would not have been practicable for the application to have been made “in time”. (Even if they think it would have been practicable to have done so, the Court may grant the extension anyway.)
In summary, then, the main changes are the requirement that the initial extension may only be granted by a Superintendent and that any bail extensions beyond 3 months from the bail release date will have to be sanctioned by a Magistrates’ Court.
One way round this for the police is to “release (the suspect) under investigation”; in such cases the person is not on bail but the inquiry continues and, should they decide to take further action, the police may contact us and invite us to bring the client to the police station or they may issue a “requisition” to attend Court. (It is important to remember that the law relating to intimidation of witnesses and perverting the course of public justice is unchanged.)
Will this mean an end to the situations where a person is required to wait months and months for a decision in her/his case? On the face of it, no. There will be a higher level or degree of scrutiny but the tests for extensions may not be so rigorous as may have been hoped and a release under investigation could easily mean an open-ended delay with no provision for challenge. Indeed, nearly all of our clients are now released under investigation rather than on bail, thereby totally emasculating the objectives of the legislation.
It is probably only a matter of time before a decision to extend is the subject of an application for judicial review, at which point we may see some guidance issued by the High Court, but in reality most cases are likely to be highly individual and fact-specific. In addition these changes do not apply to cases where the person was first released on bail prior to 3rd April 2017.
4 August 2017