Why I lobbied for police bail changes in Queen's Speech

Written by John Higginson on 28 May 2015 in Opinion
My wife, a journalist on The Sun, was arrested for an alleged crime and had to wait over two years to be found not guilty.

David Cameron has put forward as bold a programme of reform as he can with such a slim majority.

There was rightly lots of focus on the EU referendum, ‘snoopers charter’ and an extension of right-to-buy. A little less on putting a time limit on pre-charge bail, which will change the lives remarkably for hundreds of thousands of people.

The policy will mean people who are arrested but not charged are not automatically put on police bail and that if they are they will be freed after 28-days unless specific approval is granted.

For the vast majority of people this may seem like a minor change in the law that will never affect them.

That is the way I thought as well until my wife, The Sun’s Whitehall Editor Clodagh Hartley, was arrested for an alleged crime she had to wait two and a half years to be found not guilty for.

She was just one of 70,000 on pre-charge bail in England, Wales and Northern Ireland with more than 5,000 on it for more than six months. Some had been left in legal limbo for more than three years.

It is why I set up the campaign group Justice Delayed Justice Denied, last year, to push for police bail to be reduced from years in some cases to 28-days in all but exceptional circumstances.

Political backers included MPs who had first-hand experience of the perversity of police having the power to set bail conditions and lengths without even having enough evidence to make a charge such as Damian Green MP and my good friend Nigel Evans MP.

But it also included parliamentarians from across the political spectrum who could just see that it was wrong such as Caroline Lucas MP, Lord Brian Paddick, David Davis MP, Lord Guy Black, Baroness Butler-Sloss, Dominic Raab MP, Sir Edward Garnier QC MP and Baroness Helena Kennedy QC.

Home Secretary Theresa May must be praised for accepting the law needed changing and moving so swiftly to make sure the bad law, brought in in 1984, was re-written.

When asked why so many people were being held on pre-charge bail for so long the police said there were delays in getting evidence from different government bodies.

Running parallel to the change in the law will be work to speed up the process of evidence gathering in all crimes. This will lead to swifter justice for but criminals and victims while the innocent and wrongly accused will be able to get back to their lives sooner.

A change in the law that most people do not think will ever affect them and one in which the beneficiaries of the change may never know what they have been saved from will never grab the biggest headlines.

That it was included in the Queen’s Speech anyway and that Theresa May talks about it today in the Commons is testament to the very positive roll politics can play on all our lives.



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