Recent Changes to Bail
On Monday 3rd April the new Policing and Crime Act 2017 came into effect, and with it came some significant shifts to the way that police bail works. RASASC are highly concerned about the impacts of these changes on our clients, and survivors across the country, not least because the changes have come about as a result of campaigning by men who have been accused of sexual offences themselves.
Here we lay out briefly what these changes are and why we are so concerned.
Bail and how it’s changed
Bail is the term used when a person accused of a criminal offence is released from police custody while an investigation is carried out. Certain restrictions or conditions are imposed on the suspect, which often include the stipulation that no contact be made with the survivor, either directly or indirectly.
Clients of the advocacy service have often found the presence of bail conditions hugely reassuring when they have reported the sexual violence, as it puts in place some form of security and safety from their abuser.
Before the 3rd April bail, could last the entire length of a police investigation, through the wait for a charging decision and up to a trial. This is a process which typically lasts over two years. Now, there is a limit of just 28 days.
If the police think it is both necessary for the accused to stay on bail for longer than 28 days, a senior police officer (Superintendent rank or above) can authorise a single extension of bail to a maximum of three months in total. Any further extensions of bail have to be authorised by a court. The changes have come about after a campaign by a celebrity who was himself accused of historical sexual offences. He raised concern for those accused of crimes, arguing that they are being held on police bail for too long, “languishing in legal limbo”. We are outraged that the demands of accused perpetrators of sexual violence have been appeased, while the impacts on survivors have seemingly been ignored.
What do these changes mean?
Frustratingly, because these changes are so new, we have yet to see what the changes will mean in practice. The police have assured us that the effects should not be too significant because any attempts to threaten or harass a survivor would be classed as witness intimidation, an offence in itself. Once a perpetrator has been interviewed by the police, they should instruct them to have no contact with the survivor, and inform them that to do so would be witness intimidation.
We have also been told that the police should increase the use of protection measures, to ensure survivors feel as safe as possible.
Our centre hopes that the impacts of these changes will be minimal. However, we are aware that this is far from guaranteed, and already the lack of a legal mechanism to prevent contact is causing increased anxiety among our clients. Something can only be done if witness intimidation takes place, not to prevent it in the first place.
There has been no clear guidance, and there is consequently a chance that this new legislation will be put into practice very differently across the country. We are concerned what these changes will actually look like. Moreover we worry for what they will mean for those survivors who do not have access to an ISVA service that can advocate for them to ensure their voices are heard.
Our centre wholeheartedly agrees that police investigations take far too long. The impacts for survivors of a prolonged time spent waiting for the criminal justice system to come to an end cannot be overstated. Nonetheless we do not feel that the answer to this problem is to reduce the length of time that a perpetrator can be on bail. It is instead to find ways of ensuring justice occurs with more speed and efficiency. The message that these changes could send to survivors are dangerous. They imply that the needs of perpetrators are greater than those of survivors. This must be rectified, and the needs of survivors must be placed at the centre of future changes to legislation. We know how much courage it takes to speak out about sexual violence let alone report to the police. This is something that it is essential to recognise and respect at every stage of the criminal justice system.
If you live in South London and would like support going through the criminal justice system please contact our ISVA service on firstname.lastname@example.org or call us on 0208 683 3311
If you would like some more information about what the criminal justice process is like please go here https://www.rasasc.org.uk/independent-sexual-violence-advocate-service/criminal-justice-system/ and https://rightsofwomen.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/10/PDF-of-From-Report-to-Court-a-handbook-for-adult-survivors-of-sexual-violence.pdf