Section 49: consequential amendments

Part of Policing and Crime Bill – in a Public Bill Committee am 9:25 am ar 12 Ebrill 2016.

Danfonwch hysbysiad imi am ddadleuon fel hyn

Photo of Jack Dromey Jack Dromey Shadow Minister (Home Affairs) 9:25, 12 Ebrill 2016

Let me say at the start that we agree with the principle of what the Government are seeking to achieve. We want to raise issues of practicality that were cited, for example, in the evidence given to the Committee by both the National Police Chiefs Council and the chief superintendents.

New clause 48 would make it mandatory for police and crime commissioners to produce an annual assessment of the capability of police forces and other agencies to meet the mandated 28-day pre-charge bail limit. I stress again, as we said on Second Reading, that reform of police bail is absolutely overdue. The current system has been criticised from both sides, on the grounds that it unfairly leaves people under investigation for long periods before they have even been charged for an offence and that it does not offer the necessary safeguards in the cases of people who pose more of a risk to the public. I will say more on that later.

A more targeted approach is therefore needed that does not unfairly restrict the liberty of people whose guilt is far from proven but that has teeth when it needs to. The case of Paul Gambaccini is a stark example of why the system has to change. We are in complete agreement that we need a common-sense approach to cases in which people have been on bail continuously but no evidence is found. Investigations need to be conducted swiftly and fairly, yet a 2013 BBC freedom of information request, to which 40 police forces responded, found that 71,256 people were on pre-charge bail and 5,480 had been on bail for more than six months. Our concern is that the Government are mandating a 28-day pre-charge bail limit, the aim of which is welcome, but are not addressing the root causes of delays in investigations.

Let us start with the key problem with cases such as that of Paul Gambaccini: individuals who are suspected of a crime but who are not ultimately charged can be under investigation for a long time before a decision not to charge is reached. As we are well aware, that can have a hugely negative impact on the lives of suspects and their families, and in cases where charges are brought and suspects are eventually found guilty, we do not want a system that involves prolonged periods before victims see any kind of justice. We therefore need to tackle why these investigations take so long.

Alongside the measures contained in this Bill, the Government need to have a careful look at where the system can be improved, where extra capacity is needed and what impact reductions in resources are having. For example, Home Office workforce figures show that 40,000 police jobs were cut between 2010 and 2015, with a 30% cut in police community support officers, 20% fewer police staff jobs and 13% fewer police officers. The police are therefore juggling carrying out investigations with patrols, immediate response to emergency incidents and life-saving preventive work. Resources will inevitably have an impact on how quickly police forces can get things done and how able they feel to prioritise investigative work.

Do the Government have any considered idea of what impact resource reductions are having on the capability of forces to carry out timely investigations? What resources will be required under this clause? For example, as regards a super structure of police superintendents to oversee the changes proposed by the Government, the point has been made very strongly by the chief superintendents that it would take out several of their number whose job it would be to supervise the new arrangements that the Government seek to put in place. Crucially, our amendment would require an assessment of this question by police and crime commissioners themselves.

Similarly, cuts to the Crown Prosecution Service and to other agencies are being seen to have a knock-on effect, and I will come back to that point shortly. We do not want the outcome of these proposals to be simply that more people are released not on bail. Chief Constable Alex Marshall noted in his evidence to the Committee that, according to the College of Policing’s bail pilot, early indications of the data were that 70% of those released on pre-charge bail

“were bailed for more than 28 days.”

This was because officers were waiting, while

“getting professional statements from doctors and others, getting phones and computers analysed, taking detailed statements from vulnerable victims of crime, getting banking information and details, and getting forensics analysed”.

He went on:

“We agree that the time limits should be closely monitored…The onus will rest on many people across the system to respond much more quickly to requests from the police conducting their investigation.”––[Official Report, Policing and Crime Public Bill Committee, 15 March 2016; c. 78, Q45.]

He is absolutely right. We do not want a situation in which, due to factors beyond their control, police have no choice but to release not on bail in order to meet the time limit. Clearly, in cases where bail conditions play a necessary role in safeguarding, this would have serious consequences for victims, witnesses and the general public.

In the Government’s consultation, suggestions from respondents included consideration of the needs of the victims of crime, including safeguarding requirements and special interview requirements. The need to safeguard complex investigations was also raised. Early indications of the College of Policing’s pilot were that, of the 950,000 arrests in a year, about 30% were released on pre-charge bail. If that starts to change dramatically, and many more people are released not on bail due to the proposals in the Bill, the Government will have to reflect on and address that. That is why the part of this amendment that requires an assessment of any changes in the number of people released not on bail is so important. Alex Marshall’s comments relate very closely to new clause 49 and the issue of third-party delays preventing police officers from taking critical decisions within the required timeframe in an investigation.

This amendment would allow the Home Secretary to mandate co-operation of relevant agencies with police forces in conducting investigations, and would allow for scrutiny of whether relevant agencies have the necessary capacity and resource to co-operate within the required length of time. The Crown Prosecution Service, forensic examiners, health authorities, banks and financial institutions, to name but a few, are all third parties that the police rely on in the preparation of a case, so the Government’s proposals in the Bill address only one part of the investigatory process.

In the Government’s own consultation on the proposal, they found that the most commonly raised suggestion was that matters outside police control should be taken into account, such as Crown Prosecution Service timescales, forensic examinations—including digital—and international inquiries.

In the 119 responses—or 40% of those who responded —highlighting the resource implications of each model, the most commonly raised issues were on the need for increased resources, including greater staff numbers. As Committee members will be aware, a number of pieces of existing legislation impose statutory duties on third parties to provide reports or information within a set timeframe, such as the Coroners and Justice Act 2009, the Coroners (Investigations) Regulations 2013, the National Health Service Act 2006 and the Female Genital Mutilation Act 2003. However, as we have argued with pre-charge bail limits, the Government must not just mandate co-operation by third parties, they must also assess the relevant agencies’ capacity and, crucially, take a proactive approach to ensuring that agencies have the tools at their disposal to provide relevant information or services within the limit. For example, when consulted on the proposals, the Ministry of Justice highlighted concerns that the numbers of cases that would fall to be considered in the Crown court will exceed the available capacity in Crown court centres. Further to that, the Government proposed to have all pre-charge bail hearings dealt with in the magistrates court. I would be interested in the Government’s assessment of the capacity of magistrates courts and the ability of the Ministry of Justice to accommodate the projected costs of the additional hearings.

The Government need to listen on this important issue. In principle, they are doing the right thing in terms of the direction of travel, but they need to listen to the widespread concerns about the practicalities of implementing their proposals; they need to listen to what the police and other agencies are telling them about the major constraints on timely investigation, address those constraints and take a comprehensive approach to scrutinising the role of all agencies in the investigatory process, including, but not limited to, the police. That is what these two new clauses seek to achieve, and I urge the Government to take further action in parallel with their proposals in the Bill.