New measures will be introduced by the Home Office to enable police to impose bail on suspects in cases of domestic abuse and sexual violence.
The reforms come after a joint inspection by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services and HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate found that the Policing and Crime Act 2017, which had been intended to remedy the problem of suspects being on bail for long periods of time, increased the likelihood of a case failing to result in the successful prosecution of an offender.
The 2017 Act introduced a presumption against using pre-charge bail unless deemed to be necessary and proportionate, and a 28-day timescale for that bail. However, following concern from campaigners the Home Office has acknowledged that this had the knock-on effect of increasing the number of offenders released under investigation, leading to victims feeling unsafe and unprotected by the police. The report also found that the delays resulting from the act made it more likely that victims would lose confidence and withdraw from the process. The Inspectorate heard evidence that victims and survivors are currently not consulted at all on bail, and in some cases were not informed when bail conditions had been removed.
Ellie Butt, Head of Policy at Refuge, said: ‘Far too many survivors of domestic and sexual abuse who bravely report crimes to the police see alleged perpetrators released under investigation, meaning there are no restrictions on contacting the survivor. This puts many women and children at real risk of harm and is a huge disincentive to reporting.’
You can read about concerns of defence lawyers about the new regime on the Justice Gap here. Freedom of Information data obtained last year revealed that over 80% of suspects are now released under investigation. At the same time, the average length that they are under investigation and stuck in legal limbo is now 139 days compared to the average 90 day length of police bail prior to the changes.
The reforms announced by the Home Office are to be called ‘Kay’s Law’ in memory of Kay Richardson, a woman murdered by her ex-partner after he was released whilst still under investigation, and given the keys to their house, despite evidence of previous domestic abuse. Under the new laws, police will have to consider key risk factors, including safeguarding victims.
The change was welcomed by campaigners at the Centre for Women’s Justice, who first launched a police super-complaint against the Act in March 2019. Nogah Ofer, a solicitor at the CWJ, said: ‘This Bill is long overdue, and all police forces must ensure that they provide the protection that survivors of domestic abuse need…We urge police forces to ensure that officers actually apply the new law, and use bail conditions to protect vulnerable people’
Speaking on behalf of the National Police Chiefs’ Council Lead for Bail Management, Chief Constable Darren Martland said: ‘We will continue to work with the Home Office and College of Policing so that we are striking that balance between protecting vulnerable victims and witnesses while upholding the rights of suspects.’