MPs back emergency bail legislation

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Indy Politics

Emergency legislation aimed at reversing a legal ruling which threw the police bail system into chaos cleared the Commons today despite concerns it was being rushed through without proper consideration of the constitutional implications.

The judgment, 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.

Speaking in the Commons, Home Secretary Theresa May said the ruling "significantly impairs the ability of the police to investigate offences and protect the public".

She told MPs the Police (Detention and Bail) Bill would "restore vital powers to the police that they have operated under without complaint from the courts for the past 25 years".

Mrs May added: "I am not prepared to stand by and ask the police to fight crime with one arm tied behind their back."

The legislation was rushed through the Commons in a single day and will have a similarly rapid passage through the Lords next week before becoming law.

But in a report published today the Lords Constitution Select Committee warned: "We are concerned that, in the understandable rush to rectify a problem which the police have identified as being serious and urgent, insufficient time has been allowed for Parliament fully to consider the constitutional implications of what it is being asked to do."

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 a murder suspect on April 5.

The High Court upheld 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.

The High Court judgment is being challenged at the Supreme Court and the cross-party committee of peers expressed concern that legislation was being passed before the case is heard.

The report said: "We are concerned that asking Parliament to legislate in these highly unusual circumstances raises difficult issues of constitutional principle as regards both the separation of powers and the rule of law."

The Bill makes it clear that when any suspect is released on bail after being arrested, "any time during which he was on bail shall not so be included" in the pre-charge detention limit.

It also confirms that the Bill will be retrospective as the amendments will be "deemed always to have had effect".

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper pledged Labour's support for new legislation.

She said the judgment had sparked "serious problems for policing operations, ongoing investigations and, potentially, for the delivery of justice and, most seriously of all, for the protection of victims and witnesses".

The Bill received unopposed second and third readings and will be considered by the Lords on Tuesday next week.