Home secretary Theresa May has made a promise to introduce a statutory time limit to prevent those accused of crimes from spending months or years on bail without being charged by police.
At present, bail conditions set by the police can be challenged in a magistrate’s court but there is no provision for challenging the length of time bail has been enforced.
According to figures acquired through the Freedom of Information Act, there are currently 71,526 people on bail, with more than 5,480 being on bail for over six months. A number of journalists accused of being part of the recent phone hacking scandal have been on police bail for more than two years.
The move follows concern about the treatment of some innocent suspects, particularly the high profile arrests of celebrities who had been alleged to have committed sexual offences.
Broadcaster Paul Gambaccini, as well as comedians Freddie Starr and Jim Davidson had been arrested as part of Operation Yewtree and held on bail for 12 months, 18 months and eight months respectively, before being told that no further action would be taken against them.
Speaking at a College of Policing annual conference, Ms May said:
“I am pleased that the College is developing evidence based guidance to bring consistency, transparency and rigour to the way in which pre-charge bail is used in criminal investigations.
“But in parallel we must also look at statutory time limits on the use of pre-charge bail to prevent people spending months or even years on bail only for no charges to be brought.”
Human rights group Liberty has called for a six-month statutory limit on pre-charge bail, describing it as the “only effective way of ensuring diligent and efficient police investigations and justice for victims and suspects”.