Lawyers representing some of the 182 cyclists arrested onthe London Critical Mass have stated that they are considering a legal challenge to the punitive bail conditions that have been imposed by the Metropolitan Police. The Green and Black Cross have appealed for anyone wanting to make such a challenge to contact their solicitor or GBC at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The police have imposed five separate bail conditions on the arrested cyclists. The most draconian of these are the requirement not to cycle anywhere in the borough of Newham, and not to go within 100m of any Olympic venue. These conditions place huge limitations on freedom of movement, particularly for those whose workplaces, friends or families are within the restricted area.
The largely unfettered power of the police to impose conditionson bail certainly needs some form of challenge. The police have a solid track history of imposing highly restrictive bail conditions on people who have yet to be, or may never be, charged with a criminal offence. They are well aware that they can impose police bail conditions that are far more punitive than the courts would impose if the person was charged.
The use of pre-charge police bail, and police bail conditions are incredibly and deliberately disruptive. They are frequently used to undermine protest activity. People can remain on police bail for many months, and face repeated ‘re-bails’ where they attend a police station on the due date only to be told that no decision on charge has yet been taken, and they will be bailed to return again. During this time bail conditions continue to apply. Conditions which ban people from taking part in protest, or from entering large areas of the country, are not uncommon, even for very minor offences.
Challenging pre-charge bail conditions without a good legal team behind you is notoriously difficult. The standard procedure is to approach the custody sergeant at the police station, and ask for the bail conditions to be varied. Some custody sergeants take their responsibilities seriously, and will give this proper consideration, others will not. For many defendants, particularly those that are unrepresented, this is as far as they get.
Of course, a legal challenge may not be the only way of resisting the use of police bail conditions. Some have suggested that instead of (or as well as) a legal challenge,there could be a campaign of non-compliance with police bail conditions. Breaching the conditions of pre-charge bail is not an offence, and you cannot be prosecuted for it. Neither do the police have powers to remand anyone in custody – to do this they would have to formally charge and put you before the courts.
You may, however, be arrested and kept at a police station for several hours. And there may be other consequences too – a history of breaching bail conditions may mean that you may end up with more stringent bail conditions, or be less likely to be given bail if you are arrested for another offence at some point in the future.
However people chose to oppose the use of punitive pre-charge bail conditions, it is good to see this practice being actively resisted,and we wish all those who do so the very best of luck.