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Police Bail and the PACE fiasco.

Have Greater Manchester Police made a rod for their own backs in going to court to appeal a ruling which appears to have caught them employing shady practices to get around the provisions of The Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE)?

Reporting the case, The Telegraph goes into frothy mouthed overdrive with a sub-headline worthy of The Daily Mail :

Criminals could walk free if they are not charged within 96 hours

Tens of thousands of murderers, rapists and violent criminals could escape prosecution following a “bizarre” legal ruling.

Conveniently forgetting that we have something like presumed innocent before being found guilty here in the UK, or at least we used to at some time in the seemingly distant past.

As would be expected in these matters, the private limited company that is also known as ACPO have made unhappy noises about the ruling, joined by our fragrant, leopard print shoe wearing Home Secretary :

Police chiefs have been left baffled by the “bizarre” ruling and both the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo) and the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) are currently considering the ramifications for forces across England and Wales.

Home Secretary Theresa May said: “I think this is a matter of great concern.

What strikes me with this case is that this element of PACE has never been tested before in court and the police have fallen into the practice of using Police Bail to allow them (or so they thought) to freeze the pre-detention charge period at the point where they grant bail until such time as they decide to re-activate the detention period for further questioning even where there is no new evidence.

The case in question (full transcript of the ruling here makes for interesting reading) has a man arrested on suspicion of murder with a superintendent granting a 12 hour extension followed by a further magistrates extension to the maximum 96 hours.

The police decided to bail the suspect 8 hours before this extension expired and following their usual practice expected to be able to detain him again for the remaining 8 hours at a time of their choosing.

That the original arrest was in November and the application for further detention was made in April does not seem to strike either the Police, ACPO or our wonderful Home Secretary as anything out of the ordinary even if it appears to be completely at odds with the legislation that has been in force for 27 years.

I am sure that some emergency legislation will be passed in this case by our freedom loving coalition in response to headlines like those of The Telegraph above. I doubt though that there will be much mention of the shocking numbers of people currently on Police Bail awaiting action by our beloved plod :

About 4,260 suspects are currently on bail from his force alone {Manchester] – which represents about 5% of the police service – meaning about 85,200 people are on bail at any one time, he said.

Or, nearly as many innocent people at liberty under threat of re-detention at an undetermined time as there are people locked up in jail.

We will just have to wait and see where this mess ends up but I am almost certain it will be yet another erosion of liberties and freedoms rather than seeing the state police slapped down for underhand, illegal and sloppy practices.

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8 comments to Police Bail and the PACE fiasco.

  • Neil

    Well…. the point of detention after arrest is to secure evidence (perhaps by a search) to preserve evidence (perhaps the accused needs to be arrested to prevent him/her possibly getting rid of incriminating evidence) or to obtain evidence by questioning. That is, arrest normally happens BEFORE sufficient evidence is available for charge. One of the legitimate purposes of arrest is to allow investigators to obtain evidence supporting or undermining their SUSPICION that an offence has been committed.

    What then often happens is that the investigative process throws up new lines of enquiry that need to be worked on. That is why police bail is used – to allow those lines of enquiry to be followed up without keeping the suspect locked up while they are undertaken. The lines of enquiry in even a simple case will often take more than 4 days (checking alilbi’s, verifying facts, speaking to newly identified witnesses who may or may not be immediately available). In complex cases, like fraud, it can take very much longer.

    Of course, without using bail, the police COULD just release without charge, make their enquiries, then re-arrest if and when they liked on new evidence. IMO that is less satisfactory than police bail. At least under the bail system, the suspect KNOWS whether or not he remains under suspicion. If the police were simply to release with a warning that they MAY re-arrest if they find new evidence, when can the suspect stop worrying? A week, a month, a year? Under the present system, the suspect knows the investigation is ongoing until he is either charged, or his bail is cancelled.

    There may be an issue of some misuse of bail in prolonging investigations uneccesarily, but that is a different issue, I think, to the design of the bail system which currently offers a good process of checks and balances.

    Still…. just think the “plod can’t get off their arses” if you wish – its so much simpler than considering the issues in a rounded way trying to balance the need for a fair and thorough investigation with the rights of the suspect.

  • […] Sport” strap-on of course. »Emergency Legislation on the way to allow sloppy policing.As I suspected yesterday on the issue of the police use of bail as an illegal way of moulding the time limits on custody to […]

  • While they hold the bail money on all those suspects, they are earnign interest. So the longer they can leave them bailed the better – and the more they can keep on bail, the more they make.

    If there is not enough evidence to bring charges then arresting a suspect is either a waste of time or alerts a criminal to the fact he’s being watched. Either way, it’s a pointless thing to do.

    • Wasp

      Leg-iron – Interesting thought on the bail money side – I hadn’t considered that at all.

      There does seem to me to be a general rush to arrest all and sundry these days even for petty issues that would have been dealt with using strong words in the past. I suppose it’s good for the statistics.

  • Patrick Harris

    I would rather they concentrated on getting rid of the 1000+ serving police officers that have criminal records.

    • Wasp

      Patrick – indeed, although there is the old saying set a thief to catch a thief 🙂

  • What’s wrong with the old methods of gathering enough evidence to determine whether an interview will likely lead to arrest? What seems to happen now is that they arrest and interview long before they have any evidence to justify it…

    • Wasp

      Julia – Yes, a lot of the current police work seems to be act first and think later leaving people hanging in police bail limbo until the plod can be bothered to get off their arses.