UK Politics

Parliament to hear emergency bill on police bail

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

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.

Doubt

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.

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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