Is Liberty barking up the wrong tree? by Susanna Bellino, Executive Editor

Just prior to recess, the Police (Detention and Bail) Bill was given Royal Assent. This Bill was fast-tracked with no opportunity for amendment in order to reverse a High Court ruling which restricted the police’s ability to bail suspects. This emergency legislation effectively clarified that police bail is potentially without limit.

Liberty, the civil liberties group, perceived the passing of the Bill as a missed opportunity to bring an end to this situation. Currently there are no limitations on the period of time a suspect can be subject to bail before charge or release. Liberty is lobbying for an amendment to either the Protection of Freedoms Bill or the Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures Bill (TPIM), both of which have left committee stage, to address this situation – despite an amendment being beyond the spirit and remit of both.

An amendment to the Bail Act does not fall within the long title of the Protection of Freedoms Bill – where pre-charge bail is mentioned it only refers to terror suspects. Likewise, the scope of TPIM is limited to terrorist suspects. Liberty argues that the practice needs to be placed anywhere within the police bail system in order to spread, but an amendment cannot solely refer to terrorism suspects since such offences are excluded from police bail powers.

Legislation imposing a statutory time limit on pre-charge police bail is needed. However, Liberty is misguided in its efforts to insert such an amendment in these two Bills for many reasons including controversy, amount of public support for such legislation, and the existing exclusion of terrorism offences from police bail powers.

The issue of further legislation to provide for a time limit on police bail was however discussed at length in both Houses during the passage of the emergency Bill, suggesting a real possibility and desire for further legislation.