Victims’ Commissioner welcomes “welcome and clear-sighted move” by Home Secretary to reverse and end the presumption against bail, which “was a misconceived move” and “bad for victims.”
The Home Office has announced a new package of measures to reform pre-charge bail, which will ensure police have to consider key risk factors – including safeguarding victims – when deciding on bail.
The new measures will ensure police are able to impose strict conditions on more suspects in high-harm cases, including most cases of domestic abuse and sexual violence.
The moves are designed to massively scale back the use of “release under investigation” powers, which were introduced in 2017.
Police, victims’ groups and lawyers have expressed concerns that the changes to the bail rules in 2017 backfired, with thousands of crime suspects being “released under investigation” by police without any restrictions, putting victims and the public in danger.
Reforms to pre-charge bail timescales will also be introduced, with the initial pre-charge bail period increased from 28 days to three months (90 days), with further extensions requiring sign-off from an inspector or above.
This follows widespread criticism of the current system, which leaves women in danger due to victims habitually not being consulted or informed when a perpetrator’s bail conditions come to an end.
The Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales, Dame Vera Baird, said:
“I am pleased that the Home Secretary is now set to reverse and end the presumption against bail. 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. There must be a presumption in favour of bail with conditions in all cases where the allegation is of serious sexual or violent offences and other serious crimes. It is important that complainants are contacted to ask whether there are any fears or threats which may inform a police bail decision. Those decisions then need to be communicated to complainants as soon as they are made so they can feel safe.
We need to send a clear message to victims that the criminal justice system is there to protect them. It is long overdue that there was a penalty for breaching a no-contact condition or exclusion zone. My preference is that it becomes a criminal offence. However, breaches can be met with restraining orders to toughen up the consequences of any further breach. A breach of a restraining order is already a criminal offence.
This is a very welcome and clear-sighted move and I congratulate the Home Secretary on it.”