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Concern over changes to bail

Pre-charge bail will now be capped at 28 days as the biggest shake-up in police bail in the history of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act (PACE) comes into force today.

The changes will be challenging and will alter the culture of custody, the Police Federation of England and Wales has warned.

The Federation's deputy general secretary and custody lead Andy Ward explains: "Release without bail will be the default position - unless bail is necessary and proportionate. One problem is that the Home Office does not spell out what is 'proportionate'. It will be a massive change in custody culture and be a considerable challenge."

He believes the 28-day limit is 'unrealistic' for complex investigations, citing cyber-crime as one area of difficulty since computers have to be seized and examined and pointing out that the results of forensic tests take time to come back.

Pre-charge bail protected victims and witnesses and also helped to prevent further offending, he said.

The Federation believes the full impact of the changes, introduced through the Policing and Crime Act 2017, will be felt most by custody sergeants and investigators.

The authority of an inspector or higher ranking officer will now be required to grant pre-charge bail up to 28 days with further extensions requiring higher levels of authority for exceptional circumstances. Police seeking extensions beyond three months will also need to apply to a magistrate.

The changes have been brought in after existing provisions were criticised for keeping suspects on bail indefinitely, waiting to hear whether they would be charged. The Home Office released documents showing that up to 4,000 people each year had to wait on bail for 12 months or more for a charging decision.

But the measures have already been dubbed a 'paper tiger' by a leading law firm which says that, in reality, an already overstretched police service will encounter extra administrative burdens and paperwork.

The Federation says the measures come at a time when poor morale and staff shortages coupled with high levels of stress and sickness absence have become an increasing problem for the custody world. Fluctuating shift patterns, lack of vital equipment and training gaps have also been identified by its Custody Forum.