By Andrew Petherbridge, Associate of Chartered Institute of Legal Executives, Neil Hudgell Solicitors – an expert in handling claims against the police for unlawful arrest, unlawful detention, assault and human rights breaches.
A SERIES of high-profile police investigations and arrests over the past 18 months – particularly those involving celebrities – have raised many questions as to whether the current legal system works as it should in the UK.
In a court of law, juries are asked to consider a defendant innocent until proven guilty, and directed only to deliver a guilty verdict if, after hearing all the evidence, they are sure ‘beyond all reasonable doubt.’
However, over the past 18 months, it could be fair to say those guidelines have been somewhat forgotten, particularly in the media, and perhaps also by the police in their thirst to publicly be seen bringing people to book.
A major problem has been the time people have been forced to spend on bail – with their reputations already badly damaged – whilst the police spend endless amounts of time attempting to gather enough evidence to convict.
In my role as a specialist in handling claims against the police at Neil Hudgell Solicitors, I represent many honest, upstanding members of society who have, through no fault of their own, found themselves wrongly accused and arrested.
It is not only celebrities who are badly affected. Whoever it happens to, their lives are effectively placed on hold. It often leads to a suspension from work, and mounting legal bills in order to fight their corner, costs which spiral out of control the longer their bail drags on.
In some cases, people lose their homes simply to defend themselves against wrongful accusations.
Shocking figures, uncovered through the Freedom of Information Act, recently found that the longest time a suspect had been bailed was three-and-a-half years, by the Metropolitan Police.
Figures from 40 out of the 44 police forces across the UK showed that 71,526 people were currently on bail, with 5,480 having been so for more than six months. Some journalists accused of phone hacking were left on police bail for more than two years.
Now, Government officials are quite rightly considering placing limits on the amount of time people can be on police bail, with Home Secretary Theresa May announcing plans hold a consultation on bringing in a limit.
Of course, there is a balance to be found, and whilst there have been examples of innocent people spending far too long on bail, there have also been a number of high-profile convictions, which perhaps wouldn’t have been achieved had the time limitations on the police been too tight.
The College of Policing currently suggests police bail should generally last no more than 28 days, whilst human rights group Liberty has called for what appears a more sensible six-month statutory limit on pre-charge bail.
Whatever changes are made, recent history has shown bail time should not be unlimited.
Police forces need to be supported in being able to fully investigate all alleged crimes, but it shouldn’t come at the cost of the rights of law-abiding members of society.