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Stop shaming suspects and holding them in indefinite limbo

20 March 2015

The Home Affairs Committee publishes its report on police bail on 20 March 2015.


Anonymity before charge

  • Suspects should have the same right to anonymity as the complainant in sexual offences, until the time that they are charged.
  • If the police wish to release information on a suspect, for policing reasons, then they should do so in a formal way.
  • There needs to be zero tolerance on the police leaking information on a suspect in an unattributed way. It is in the interests of the police, post Leveson, to demonstrate that they understand the level of public distrust that has built up over the informal relationship between the police and the media.

Introducing a time limit on bail

  • We recommend that an initial time limit on bail of 28 days should be introduced. A decision to re-bail at 28 days could be taken by the police, but subject to challenge by a senior police officer independent of the investigation.
  • Decisions to re-bail should be reviewed at three month intervals by the courts.
  • The onus at each review should be on the police to justify the reason for re-bail and introduce certainty to a process that at present keeps suspects in limbo for an unspecified period and with poor information as to why. It should encourage the police to use bail less, to investigate more thoroughly before arrest, and to finish investigations more quickly.
  • The police can apply to the courts for exemptions from the review process if they can justify that the nature of the case means the investigation will be complex, such as where evidence needs to be retrieved from overseas. The proportion of such cases should be small.

No further action

  • The committee considered the case of Mr Paul Gambaccini. Where a person has been on bail for longer than six months, and where the final decision is to take no further action, the CPS should write to the individual explaining the decision. The CPS said that they write to the complainant to give an explanation when a case is not proceeded with. It is unfair to write to the complainant and not to the person who had been complained against.

Chair's comments

Rt. Hon Keith Vaz MP, Chairman of the Committee, said:

"A reform of police bail is long overdue. The police only need to have reasonable suspicion that an offence has taken place to arrest someone. It is unacceptable that, even with little evidence, people can be kept on bail for months on end and then suddenly be told that no further action will be taken against them without providing any information as to why. 

Paul Gambaccini was left in limbo for what he described as "twelve months of trauma", his life was put on hold, his employer stopped his contract and his costs from lost earnings and legal fees totalled £200,000. The CPS should write and apologise to Mr Gambaccini, explaining why the case took so long when the original police investigation was dropped for insufficient evidence a month before he was even arrested. They must do so in other similar cases.

Suspects deserve to remain anonymous until charge. Police use of the 'flypaper' practice of arresting someone, leaking the details, then endlessly re-bailing them in the vague hope that other people come forward is unacceptable and must come to an immediate end. It is inexcusably that information about suspects is released to the media in an informal, unattributed way. We have seen how destructive this can be to a person's livelihood, causing irreparable reputational damage and enormous financial burden. The Police must advocate zero tolerance on leaking names of suspects to the press before charge."

Further information