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UK Politics

Government to bring in emergency bail legislation

Emergency legislation to reverse a controversial legal ruling on police bail will go through all stages in the Commons on Thursday, the leader of the House said.

Sir George Young said peers would then consider the police detention and bail Bill early next week.

The move to rush through new laws comes after ministers told MPs that waiting for the results of an appeal to the Supreme Court would take too long.

The initial ruling, made by a district judge and backed by a judicial review at the High Court, means officers can no longer bail suspects for more than four days without either charging or releasing them.

His announcement came as three Supreme Court justices were considering an application from Greater Manchester Police (GMP) to stay the judgment pending a full appeal at the same court on July 25.

The row started when district judge Jonathan Finestein, sitting at Salford Magistrates' Court, refused a routine application from GMP for a warrant of further detention of murder suspect Paul Hookway on April 5.

High Court judge Mr Justice McCombe confirmed the ruling in a judicial review on May 19, which meant time spent on police bail counted towards the maximum 96-hour limit of pre-charge detention.

For the last 25 years, police and the courts have only counted the time spent being questioned or in police custody towards the limit, with many suspects being released on bail for months before being called back for further interviews.

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper claimed it has led to police failing to arrest domestic violence suspects who breach bail conditions, leaving alleged victims vulnerable.

The Home Office has been criticised for not acting sooner to reverse the ruling.

But Home Secretary Theresa May told police chiefs: "There is a clear need to act fast to make sure we put things right for the police."

Policing minister Nick Herbert announced the emergency legislation would be used an hour after receiving legal advice from the Association of Chief Police Officers (Acpo), she said.

"There is no question that I will always give the police the tools and powers they need to catch criminals, investigate crimes and protect the public," Mrs May said.

Last week, Mr Herbert admitted that officials were told of the oral judgment in May, but its full impact only became clear when the written judgment was handed down on June 17 and ministers were alerted on June 24.

Sir Norman Bettison, chief constable of West Yorkshire Police, highlighted the problems the ruling caused his officers last week, saying they were left "running round like headless chickens ... wondering what this means to the nature of justice".

About 85,200 people are on bail in England and Wales at any one time and the common practice in most major inquiries of releasing suspects on bail and calling them back for questioning weeks later is "pretty much a dead duck" after the ruling, police chiefs said.

Shadow Commons leader Hilary Benn said: "It has taken Home Office Ministers far too long - six weeks - to respond to the court judgment which was originally given on May 19, and the result has been a complete mess with doubt about the enforcement of bail conditions - for example in domestic violence cases."