The Home Office will reverse bail reforms after an overhaul intended to speed up the system instead made police investigations longer and left victims at increased risk.
Theresa May put forward plans to overhaul the system five years ago when she was home secretary, She tried to reduce the amount of time spent on investigations and charge decisions by restricting bail to 28 days, with extensions authorised only at senior levels and then by the courts. Instead police forces shied away from using pre-charge bail at all and suspects were increasingly released under investigation with no conditions.
A report last month warned that victims were being put at increased risk as a result and criminals had committed fresh offences after being released under investigation. Victims of domestic violence and harassment were not given the protection they would have received under bail, such as conditions preventing a suspect from visiting their address. Investigations became longer with suspects left in limbo for months and in some cases for over a year.
Home Office sources confirmed that Priti Patel, the present home secretary, will scrap the reforms this week and announce that suspects can be bailed for up to 90 days. She will tell police to use bail where it is “necessary and proportionate” such as cases where suspects present a risk of violence. It is understood that the Home Office will reject calls to create a specific offence for the breach of pre-charge bail, which will disappoint police who wanted the system to have more teeth.
Senior officers said there had long been flaws in the way bail was managed but Mrs May’s measures were never going to address them. They said investigations were lagging due to delays in obtaining forensic evidence and limited resources, not the bail system.
Last month a joint investigation by HM Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire Rescue Services and HM Crown Prosecution Service Inspectorate, which investigated 140 cases, found that there was an average wait of 128 days for suspects on police bail before a charging decision, and 201 days for suspects released under investigation.
In 2016 the College of Policing said suspects were spending an average of 53 days on police bail, although statistical anomalies mean the data cannot be directly compared.