It is now being reported that emergency legislation will be rushed through the commons on Thursday to prevent the Hookway ruling by Justice McCoombe from becoming law. The reporting of the case has been largely inaccurate. The ruling by the high court judge has limited the time that police can re-detain someone for questioning to a period of four days, unless there is new evidence that would justify a further arrest. It has not changed the widely used practice of bailing people for weeks or months at a time in order to find enough evidence for the CPS to sign off on charging the person.
This caused some predictably hysterical reaction in the right wing and police press , but these restrictions on police bail would not really allow rapists and paedophiles to walk free. What they would do, is bring about a substantial improvement to civil rights as the ruling prevents the police from abusing the custody process to re-interview citizens any number of times over weeks following an arrest.
For protesters the wider issue is the routine and systematic abuse of Police bail. It is used to impose conditions on people who have not been charged, frequently conditions that courts would be unlikely to endorse. The police enthusiastically use such conditions to limit the movements and behaviour of political protesters who will never even appear before a court. Unsurprisingly, despite having a golden opportunity to really address these issues, the government’s emergency legislation (which is fully supported by all the major parties) is likely to only strengthen the hand of authority, and the tyranny of police bail is set to continue.
If you have been on bail for more than four days you must still surrender at the appointed time otherwise any failure to attend may be a criminal offence for which you could be arrested and charged. Ask your solicitor for more details.
The following letter, which was published in the Guardian , is supported by Netpol members, a number of which are signatories.
Police bail and questions about the justice system
As support groups working with and solicitors representing people arrested at protests, including the recent student and anti-cuts protests, we have first-hand experience of the abuse of police bail (Report, 1 July). It is uncommon for people arrested at protests to be charged at the time. Instead the police routinely place people on police bail, often without even interviewing them. Then they remain on bail for many months and the police impose stringent bail conditions, the most common of which is a prohibition on attending further protests. Ultimately, many will never be charged.
It is clear to us that the police view the use of bail as part of a wider public order strategy aimed at disrupting protest movements. We therefore welcome the high court ruling ending this practice.
Tony Martin Legal Defence & Monitoring Group
Emily Apple Fitwatch
Estelle du Boulay Newham Monitoring Project
Richard Parry BSB solicitors
Matt Foot Birnberg Peirce solicitors
Mike Schwarz Bindman & Ptrs Solicitors
Lydia Dagostino Kellys Solicitors
Jude Lanchin Bindman & Ptrs solicitors
Simon Natas Irvine Thanvi Natas solicitors
Raj Chada Hodge Jones & Allen solicitors
Joseph Wright Hodge Jones & Allen solicitors