Theresa May has announced plans to put a 28-day time limit on the use of police bail, following concerns that people were being left in legal limbo as proceedings dragged on for months or years.
The Home Secretary said it “cannot be right that people can spend months or even years on pre-charge bail with no oversight” as she launched a consultation on the time limit.
The consultation proposes that the 28-day limit could only be extended in exceptional circumstances through an application to a magistrates’ court.
Mrs May said: “I believe we need a statutory time limit in place to ensure people do not spend months or even years on bail, only for no charges to be brought.”
West Yorkshire Police, who last year were revealed to have more people on long-term police bail than nearly any other force, had 716 suspects on bail for more than 180 days in June this year.
The figures prompted fears that the force, which faces dramatic budget cuts, are holding off on charging suspects because they do not have the resources to bring cases to court any quicker.
The force revealed in October that more than ten per cent of these suspects relate to two major child sexual abuse probes. Suspects are offered police bail when an investigation is going on into alleged criminal activity but they have not been charged. They are bailed to return to the police station on a future date.
The Government’s proposals include revising the Police and Criminal Evidence Act so a suspect under investigation can be released without bail.
Mrs May also proposed measures to increase co-operation between the police and other public sector organisations so evidence can be obtained more quickly.
The Home Office said the proposed changes, the biggest reform in 30 years, would significantly reduce both the number of individuals subject to, and the average duration of, pre-charge bail. Mrs May said she wanted people to share their views on the reforms.