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Express & Star comment: Law must not favour criminals

By Star Comment | Opinions | Published:

There is little doubt that a new law regarding police bail was brought in with the very best of intentions.

The legislation, which was introduced a year ago, limited pre-charge bail to 28 days in an effort to stop people being left to languish for lengthy periods while police investigations took place.

There were several high profile cases that undoubtedly influenced the change. They include broadcaster Paul Gambaccini, who was on bail for more than a year before the case against him was dropped.

Such cases highlight the need to give greater consideration to the experiences of those who have been accused of a crime.

However, senior police officers are right to be concerned about the unintentional consequences of the legislation.

The 28 day limit, which can only be extended in exceptional circumstances on the say so of a judge, does not give police enough time to conduct sensitive and complex investigations.

And the huge reduction in the number of people being given bail is incredibly worrying. In the West Midlands alone, two thirds less people are being bailed under the new law.

It means that people who have been accused of serious crimes are classed as 'under investigation', and are not subjected to conditions allowing the police to monitor their behaviour.

This opens up the possibility of them being free to commit further crimes, including witnesses intimidation.

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We can only assume that in the long run, this legislation will have a hugely detrimental impact on the ability of our police forces to do their jobs.

There is a real danger that some hardened criminals will simply slip through the cracks, be it due to incomplete investigations or a lack of monitoring by the authorities.

We have already seen reports of a rise in the number of defendants failing to attend court cases, which is highly likely to be linked to the new system of charging people by letter.

All allegations of criminal activity should be taken seriously.

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But taking into consideration the widespread concern over bail legislation, ministers would be wise to conduct a full review.

There must be a balance in the criminal justice system, but under no circumstances should the law favour criminals over victims.

Public safety must always come first.

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