Government plans to overhaul bail rules in bid to protect victims


Heavily criticised bail reforms which saw thousands of suspects accused of serious and violent crimes released without restrictions are to be scrapped.

Police officers will instead be told to impose bail conditions on suspects they are releasing if they could pose a risk to victims, witnesses or the public, when the plans come into force.

Once introduced, suspects could spend up to three months on pre-charge bail (PCB) as time limits to keep them under restrictions are increased from 28 days to 90.

However, measures will also be in place to make sure no-one is kept on bail for unreasonable lengths of time, officials said.

The overhaul reverses rules brought in less than four years ago by the Conservatives when Amber Rudd was home secretary.

These allowed suspects to be released under investigation (RUI) without any conditions, in a bid to limit the numbers of people spending long periods of time on bail without being charged.

The Home Office announced the decision after carrying out a public consultation on the plans.

The news was welcomed by campaigners, who previously warned of the dangers the 2017 changes could pose.

Dame Vera Baird, the victims’ commissioner for England and Wales, said: “The Government was warned that this reform could do more harm than good and so it has proved to be. This was a misconceived move, which has been bad for victims.

“We now need police bail that protects victims and gives the public confidence.”

Charity Refuge said it was “vital” that bail was used in all domestic abuse and sexual violence cases as RUI puts many women and children “at real risk of harm” and is a “huge disincentive to reporting”.

RUI allows suspects to leave custody after an arrest without any restrictions for an unlimited period of time while inquiries continue, rather than having to comply with conditions like living at a certain address, not contacting particular people, or regularly visiting a police station.

In 2018, Kay Richardson was murdered by her estranged husband Alan Martin after police released him under investigation. He had a history of domestic abuse and she had reported him for rape.

Figures released under freedom of information laws suggest some 97,000 suspects were released under investigation last year compared to around 6,000 in 2016, according to the Daily Telegraph.

Separate figures obtained by BBC’s Newsnight indicated almost 100,000 suspected violent criminals and sex offenders, including those accused of rape and murder, were released under investigation between April 2017 and October 2019.

In a report published last month, watchdogs found victims of serious crimes including domestic abuse were being left at risk because too many suspects are released by police without restrictions – something inspectors branded “extremely worrying”.

Chief Constable Darren Martland, who leads the National Police Chiefs’ Council work on bail, said police would work to strike a balance between “protecting vulnerable victims and witnesses while upholding the rights of suspects” under the new rules.

Named “Kay’s Law” in memory of Ms Richardson, the changes will form part of a criminal justice Bill which will be introduced to Parliament as “soon as parliamentary time allows”, the Home Office said.