Schedule 1 — Amendments Related to Part 1
Criminal Justice Bill
Mr David Heath (Somerton and Frome, Liberal Democrat)
I pay tribute to the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, Mr. Mullin, not only for tabling the amendments but for the work of his Committee on the Bill. In the Standing Committee, we found many opportunities to quote the work of his Committee to good effect, and we are grateful to him and his colleagues.
I entirely agree with the hon. Gentleman on the specific points that he made. The strong argument for conditional bail before charge is that it would be a substitute for detention. I accept that, although I share some of the concerns expressed by the Select Committee that it might be used in circumstances in which there was insufficient evidence to charge. In such cases, the provision would become an onerous imposition on the freedom of an individual if it were used as a replacement for detention which could not be effected simply because there was no evidence. We have, however, had assurances from the Minister on that matter, and, for the moment, let us accept those assurances.
The idea that there should be no time limit on the imposition of conditional bail, however, seems entirely outwith the assertion that this is the more generous and liberal alternative to detention in custody. If a person were to be detained, there would be clearly delineated time limits on the period of detention, so whatever the arguments for conditional bail before charge, there ought to be a time limit on it. Whether 28 days is appropriate is a matter for discussion. It is, to some extent, an arbitrary limit. The advice from Mr. Burbeck was interesting and telling, given its source and the seniority of Mr. Burbeck and his responsibilities in ACPO. There should be a time limit. If the Minister is not prepared to accept the amendment, it is incumbent on him to explain how any time limit might be imposed, and what limit he would find acceptable. If he does not believe that any time limit is appropriate, that calls into question the whole proposition of conditional bail before charge.
The one further argument that I would adduce is that conditional bail lets the prosecuting authorities off the hook to a great extent. If our intention is to ensure that prosecutions are brought speedily and effectively, with the right charge at the right time, to allow an alternative of conditional bail over a prolonged period while the prosecuting services get their act together would be a retrograde step towards achieving the objectives, which I thought the Home Office and the Lord Chancellor's Department shared, of making progress towards the speedier justice system that we would all like to see.