Police “running around like headless chickens” after shock bail law change

The case law threatens thousands of investigations

The case law threatens thousands of investigations

A new legal prescient set by a Salford District Judge and upheld by the High Court has become  the centre of a law and order storm likely to have ramifications for policing in the UK unless it is successfully appealed.

The Home Secretary, Theresa May is said to be considering emergency legislation to prevent the results of a High Court ruling in the favour of the defendant in a murder case.

Mr Justice McCombe upheld the Salford district judge’s decision that people brought into police detention cannot be bailed and re detained at a further date. Detectives currently use this strategy to release an individual they suspect of a serious crime and conduct further investigations and ensure that the suspect can be redetained at a later date.

The dispute revolves around the “detention clock” set out by the police and criminal evidence act 1984. This stipulates the amount of time an individual can be in police custody before being either charged or released. The “detention clock” is usually 24 hours, however it can be extended to 36 hours by a senior officer if the crime is serious enough and the situation justifies it.

The High Court ruled that the practice of bailing someone after say 22 hours and rearrest them enabling them to be detained for the remaining 14 hours on the “detention clock” is wrong. Instead, the judge ruled, the full detention clock is chronological, meaning after 36 hours after the initial arrest the suspect can only be charged or released, with no option of bailing the individual to detain them later.

Senior police officers are concerned about the implications of the proposed changes and have been in consultation with the Home Secretary and the Crown prosecution Service. The Chief Constable of West Yorkshire has said ‘’We are running around like headless chickens wondering what this means to the nature of justice’’.

The Home Secretary has said “We are conscious of the concerns this judgment has brought in terms of operational policing.”

The case revolves around Paul Hookaway a murder suspect who was released after 22 hours to allow further investigation. Five months later detectives requested more time to question the suspect which was denied by the District Judge, a relatively minor judicial position, on the basis that 96 hours had already elapsed since the initial arrest five months earlier.

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