Further changes to bail legislation must consider victim’s needs
Changes to bail legislation in 2017 led to potentially increased risk to victims and uncertainty for suspects, a joint inspection by HMICFRS and HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate (HMCPSI) has found.
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The changes to bail introduced through the Police and Crime Act 2017 were in part intended to remedy the problem of suspects being on bail for long periods of time. This legislation also allowed suspects to be released under investigation (RUI), as an alternative to formal bail.
The inspection found:
- that suspects are still faced with lengthy delays and that the changes also had unintended consequences for victims, who view them as overwhelmingly negative;
- that not enough thought was given as to how the legislative changes would affect victims;
- that RUI leaves too many victims without the reassurance and protection that bail conditions can provide;
- there was an inconsistent implementation of the changes by forces due to a lack of clear guidance;
- that investigations involving suspects released under investigation tend to take longer and are subject to less scrutiny than ones involving formal bail; and
- that victims and suspects do not understand the legislation and are not being updated about the progress of their case.
The speed at which the legislation was put through limited the time available to address the consequences of these changes. Both the police and the College of Policing highlighted the potential risks before the changes were implemented. Inspectors also found a lack of accurate data, which means that any increased risk brought about by the legislation change is difficult to assess.
On behalf of HMICFRS and HMCPSI, HM Inspector of Constabulary Zoe Billingham said:
“We know from commissioned research that bail conditions give victims reassurance. Most victims who shared their experiences as part of this inspection were clear that they felt safer with bail in place.
“Our inspection found that policing was ill-prepared to put into practice the changes to bail legislation made in 2017. Forces were not given adequate guidance, which resulted in a range of interpretations of the legislation across England and Wales. These changes also had negative unintended consequences for victims as well as suspects.
“We found that in many cases of domestic abuse and stalking, suspects are released under investigation instead of being formally bailed with conditions. This is very worrying because of the high harm and risk associated with these types of crime, and it is clear through our research that victims of domestic abuse feel less safe since the changes were made.
“The subsequent publication of National Police Chiefs’ Council guidance in 2019, has resulted in notable improvements. For example, the police have made renewed efforts to redress the balance between protecting victims and the rights of suspects.
“The Home Office has recently completed a public consultation on these issues. We have added our inspection findings to this consultation. We urge all involved in revising the legislation to reflect on the findings of our report and ensure any changes better balances the needs of all those in the Criminal Justice System.”
This inspection was supported by research carried out by BritainThinks. This research, which is also published today contains experiences from victims, suspects and professionals following the changes made in 2017. The research highlighted that the changes to the use of pre-charge bail, and specifically the introduction of RUI, as having an impact on victims’ feelings of personal safety and that victims feel less safe in cases where the suspect is released under investigation.
A victim of domestic abuse reported to police that her ex-partner’s behaviour had recently escalated, and that he was now contacting her every day. She told the police that in the latest incident he rang her doorbell repeatedly and called for her. He had been arrested for common assault for a previous incident and released under investigation. Police had not recorded an explanation for not bailing him with conditions to protect the victim. At court, he pleaded guilty and a restraining order was put in place. But during those months between his arrest and going to court there were no conditions in place to help protect the victim. There was nothing to stop the suspect from contacting his ex-partner.
(Case Study from HMICFRS and HMCPSI report)
“I’ve got no idea [if bail conditions were applied] because no one told me… I think I would have felt quite good about [bail conditions being imposed], that he had to go to the police station every 48 hours for example.”
(Victim of stalking and harassment – source BritainThinks research, 2020).
Presumably the system was altered because the old system was not working but I’m not saying that the new system creates any better service to either the public at large or the solicitors who are trying to find out what’s going on for their clients.”
(Legal suspect representative – source BritainThinks research, 2020)
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- This inspection was a joint thematic inspection led by HMICFRS and supported by HMCPSI. The inspection assessed:
- the effectiveness of leadership and governance in supporting the implementation of the legislation on pre-charge bail/RUI;
- the effectiveness of police forces at identifying and managing the vulnerability and risk associated with victims of crime where the suspect has been RUI;
- We inspected how six forces used bail and released under investigation (RUI) in 2019. Fieldwork for this inspection was due to continue in 2020, however was curtailed due to COVID-19 restrictions. We also inspected six CPS Areas.
- HMICFRS commissioned BritainThinks to undertake research into victim and suspect experiences of changes implemented as a result of the Policing and Crime Act 2017. The findings from this research was used as supporting evidence for this inspection report.
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