UK Politics

Stop emergency police bail bill, say lawyers

Lamp outside police station
Image caption Police bail: Emergency bill before MPs on Thursday

Top lawyers have signed an open letter which urges the government to halt its emergency police bail bill.

The emergency legislation will go through the Commons on Thursday as the government seeks to reverse a High Court judgement made in May.

That ruling effectively stops police from enforcing bail on suspects for more than four days.

Lawyers against the bill say it means police will "bail and see" rather than investigate properly.

Signatories include the firm of solicitors who represented Paul Hookway, the murder suspect behind the original bail challenge, and leading criminal barristers.

'Excessively long'

In the letter, the lawyers argue that the emergency bail bill should be delayed because the carefully crafted powers within the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (Pace) had been "years in the making".

"[Pace] was preceded by scrutiny, public dialogue, Law Commission research, and proper, reasoned and appropriately allocated parliamentary debate.

"In the time since Pace has been in force, a slow shift has occurred, in which initial investigation and proper effective interrogation up to the 96 hours after arrest has been replaced in practice by a more recent trend of excessively long bail periods.

"We ask that if changes are to be made to this important area of public law, they take place not as a result of rushed emergency legislation."

Joseph Kotrie-Monson, from the firm which represented Mr Hookway, said: "The legislation is being rushed through now without proper debate to widen police powers, not to prevent chaos.

"The judgment in Hookway should have been a wake-up call in respect of this new emerging police practice of 'bail and see' rather than interview and investigate properly on the front end."

Some defence solicitors claim that bail times have been lengthening because police use it to keep suspects on a 'long leash'.

Mr Kotrie-Monson said he had one client who had been on bail for three years for an offence which would not lead to prison.

Publishing the emergency bill earlier in the week, Home Secretary Theresa May said: "The ability to bail suspects is a crucial part of how the police investigate criminals and protect victims.

"I will always give police the powers they need to protect the public, that is why emergency legislation is required."

The crisis was sparked by a ruling in the case of murder suspect Mr Hookway who had been released on police bail while detectives continued their investigation.

The judgement said that 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".

In practical terms, the judgement means police cannot order a suspect to return for further questioning or enforce bail restrictions such as bans on contacting witnesses, after the end of the four-day period.

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