Priti Patel has proposed to reverse former prime minister Theresa May’s bail reforms, which led to violent and sexual offenders being released without restrictions.
The Home Secretary has sought to double or treble the length of pre-charge bail, which is currently limited to 28 days as per rules that May had put forward as home secretary and later implemented as prime minister.
“Since rule changes in 2017, there have been concerns that pre-charge bail is not always being used where appropriate to protect victims, investigations are taking longer to conclude, and that this has had adverse impacts on the courts,” she said.
Patel asserted that she was “committed to giving a voice to victims and providing the police with the support they need to protect the public from harm”.
“There are no quick fixes here,” she added. “The concerns raised in relation to the 2017 reforms are also due to several other complex factors. Improving the effectiveness of the bail system is only the first step on that journey…. Our aim is to have a system which protects victims, enables the police to investigate crimes effectively and respects the rights of individuals under investigation.”
The reforms were initiated to prevent suspects spending months caught in legal limbo, languishing on police bail.
One such notable case was of broadcaster Paul Gambaccini, who had been placed on police bail for a year as officers investigated allegations of sexual abuse, which were eventually dropped. He had claimed lost earnings and legal expenses of more than £200,000.
However, the police federation, victims’ groups and lawyers maintained that the reforms had backfired, as hundreds of suspects were being released without any restrictions, thus endangering victims and the public.
Figures obtained under Freedom of Information laws showed the number of suspected offenders released while under investigation had increased from 6,464 in 2016 to 97,473 last year. Those released included people accused of violence, sexual offences and domestic abuse.
Patel’s proposal included tougher scrutiny of people released through regular “reviews” and giving custody officers the authority to decide on the need for bail.
She stressed that her aim was to “ensure the needs of victims are put first and the police can investigate crimes effectively and swiftly”.
Adina Claire, acting co-CEO of the charity Women’s Aid, welcomed the move: “We’ve been calling to reverse the pre-charge bail reforms introduced in 2017, as these restrictions on the use of bail can leave survivors unprotected while they wait for their perpetrator to face justice.
“It is now essential that survivor voices are heard as part of this consultation, and reforms are swiftly put in place to protect their safety.”
The National Police Chiefs’ Council Lead for Bail Management, Chief Constable Darren Martland, said: “In the years since the bail legislation was amended, the police service has worked hard to implement the changes in the spirit they were introduced.
“What has become clear in that time is that a number of unintended consequences have followed, presenting fresh challenges for the police service and the wider criminal justice system.”