UK Politics

Ministers to introduce emergency law after bail ruling

Emergency laws are to be brought forward to overturn a High Court ruling limiting police bail in England and Wales to a maximum of four days.

Policing Minister Nick Herbert told MPs the move was necessary to allow officers to do their jobs properly.

Police had regularly released suspects on bail for weeks, or even months in some cases, while an inquiry continued.

But solicitors involved in the High Court case said such practices were "unlawful" and new laws "unnecessary".

Following a ruling in the case of murder suspect Paul Hookway, fresh guidance issued to forces said officers would have to re-arrest suspects in order to detain or question them again beyond the four-day - or 96-hour - period - and could only do so with "new evidence".

'Dire' implications

The Association of Chief Police Officers' (Acpo) lead spokesman on the issue, Essex Chief Constable Jim Barker-McCardle, said the ruling had caused "chaos and concern" among officers.

BBC home affairs correspondent Danny Shaw said one senior police figure had described the implications of the court ruling as "dire" as it would have far-reaching effects on serious and complex cases where police needed time to gather evidence and speak to witnesses, such as in rape allegations.

Mr Herbert told the Commons that police "believe that the judgement will have a serious impact on their ability to investigate crime".

"It is likely that in most forces there will not be enough capacity to detain everybody in police cells," he said.

"In other cases it risks impeding the police to such an extent that the investigation will have to be stopped because the detention time has run out.

"The judgement will also affect the ability of the police to enforce bail conditions."

The minister said that with about 80,000 suspects currently on bail, the government could not afford to wait for a Supreme Court appeal.

He said the emergency legislation would provide assurance to the police that they could continue to operate on the same basis, regarding bail, as they have for the last 25 years.

But shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper criticised the government for dealing with the issue only now - despite Home Office officials learning of the Hookway decision in May.

"There has been considerable chaos in the Home Office around this, not just this week but for the last few weeks," she said.

"It is a deeply serious situation for the police, for prosecutions, and particularly for justice for victims."

Mr Herbert said that while the Home Office knew about the judgement last month, the full impact of it became clear only on 17 June.

'Unconstitutional'

The row began when a district judge at Salford Magistrates' Court refused to grant a routine warrant to Greater Manchester Police to extend Mr Hookway's detention.

The force sought a judicial review, but the ruling was upheld at the High Court. The judge, Mr Justice McCombe, agreed that time spent on police bail counted towards the maximum 96-hour limit of pre-charge detention.

Greater Manchester Police will take their case to the Supreme Court on 25 July.

But Joseph Kotrie-Monson, the solicitor who represented Mr Hookway, insisted the ruling in his case did not change the law.

"It merely prevents police from abusing the custody process to reinterview citizens any of number times over periods sometimes as long as two or three years, provided the length of those interviews does not exceed four days," he said.

"Where there is new evidence, the police can detain again. What they can't do is take someone who is not proven to have committed any crime into custody as many times as they want, because they forgot to ask the right questions the first time around.

"The reason that [Home Secretary] Theresa May seeks new legislation is because she knows that the police actions up to now have been both unlawful and unconstitutional."

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