Parliament to hear emergency bill on police bail

Lamp outside police station The Association of Chief Police Officers said it had major concerns about the impact of the ruling

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Emergency legislation designed to reverse a controversial judgement on police bail will go before MPs on Thursday.

The Leader of the Commons, Sir George Young, said the legislation would pass all its Commons stages that day.

The emergency bill has been prompted by a High Court judgement that severely restricts how police can bail suspects.

The UK's highest court will separately consider that judgment later this month.

Sir George Young said a draft of the Police (Detention and Bail) Bill would be made available to parliamentarians by Monday evening, with the final draft published on Tuesday.

The legislation already has the support of the Labour opposition which means that ministers will be able to steer it through each of the houses of Parliament in hours rather than weeks. Sir George Young said he hoped that the Bill would pass its House of Lords stages early next week.


The crisis was sparked by a High Court ruling in the case of murder suspect Paul Hookway who had been released on police bail while detectives from Greater Manchester Police continued their investigation.

The judgement said that officers could not bail someone beyond the maximum four day - or 96-hour - period, that they are allowed to hold someone in custody without charge.

Bail ruling - who knew what and when?

  • 19 May: Judge rules orally against Greater Manchester Police. GMP informs officials at Home Office soon after
  • 17 June: Written version of judgement circulated to Home Office officials, Crown Prosecution Service lawyers and police chiefs. Full scale of the problem becomes clear
  • 24 June: Ministers informed about the situation. Association of Chief Police Officers commissions further legal advice
  • 30 June: Acpo recommends emergency legislation. Ministers say it will be introduced "as soon as possible"

That decision overturned a quarter of a century of policing practice because officers regularly release suspects on bail for weeks or even months as their inquiries continue.

Under the system operated by every force in England and Wales until the ruling in May, the detention clock only began ticking again once a suspect was back in a police station. Bailed suspects must comply with restrictions, such as not approaching the victim or witnesses.

Last week, Policing Minister Nick Herbert told the Commons that the judgement would seriously effect the ability of forces to investigate crime unless it was overturned either at appeal or through emergency legislation.

"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 minister said that with about 80,000 suspects currently on bail, the government could not wait weeks for a full Supreme Court appeal and judgement.

Labour's frontbench said it would support the emergency bill - but has accused ministers of failing to realise the seriousness of the ruling.

Shadow Leader of the House Hilary Benn said: "It has taken Home Office Ministers far too long - six weeks - to respond to the court judgement which was originally given on 19 May.

"The result has been a complete mess with doubt about the enforcement of bail conditions - for example in domestic violence cases."

GMP alerted the Home Office to the judgement in May - but Mr Herbert told MPs that its full implications only became clear after officials and leading barristers analysed the written judgement a month later.

Separately, Greater Manchester Police, which lost the original bail case, has asked Supreme Court to "stay" the judgement, a legal tool which temporarily suspends a ruling ahead of an appeal.


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  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    Nick 2491 "Cynical Sid, arresting someone later when frequently what they wear is evidence, thus giving them time to burn it" In most cases, where clothing is evidence, they would be destroyed long before Police even had an idea who the guilty party is.

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    In my experience all legislation requires a certain amount of interpretation, something like Drink Driving requires little or none. The interpretation of many more complex pieces of legislation is a necessary safeguard in testing it. Amendments / clarfication is needed in some legislation.
    Rather than a whole new bill, review and amend existing tested legislation - baby and bathwater ?

  • rate this

    Comment number 77.

    Friedal, a mags court can't ever extend police custody past 96 hours, no matter the circs (other than terrorism act, outside of this issue). After charge, if a person is remanded in prison pre-trial and there are further offences, mags can remand them back into police custody for 72 hours, the 'three day liedown', but exceedingly rare.

    Bob - 50's or not, it's still irrelevant to the issue! :)

  • rate this

    Comment number 76.

    We need to see the final draft of this this new emergency legislation, politicians are not very good at drafting laws when they are not under pressure let alone when the pressure is full on. I trust the Home Office as much as I trust a reptile, slippery to say the least. This panic process is because of lack of planning and failure to provide proper prison resources. Its a money problem as usual.

  • rate this

    Comment number 75.

    Nick 2491, sorry but I'm not splitting hairs here. Magistrates courts were staffed orginally by a Stipendiary magistrate and were know up to the early 50's as Police Courts.


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