Schedule 1 — Amendments Related to Part 1
Criminal Justice Bill
Mr Hilary Benn (Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Home Office; Leeds Central, Labour)
I echo the tributes paid to my hon. Friend Mr. Mullin for the work that he and his colleagues do in general, and for the work they have done in respect of the Bill. I hope that he will feel—if not now, by the end of my brief speech—that this is a dialogue worth having. It certainly is from the Government's point of view.
We did of course note the Select Committee's perception of a risk that onerous conditions might be allowed to run indefinitely. It is arguable that that risk is slight, for although there is currently no limit on the duration of police bail it is not the practice of the police to bail suspects indefinitely; typically, they are bailed to return to the station on a specified date a few weeks hence. I should add, for the benefit of Mr. Garnier in particular, that the conditions can be imposed only with the suspect's consent. If the suspect does not want the conditions to be placed on him or her, it will fall to the police to charge the suspect and take him or her to court; it will then be for the magistrates to impose the conditions. That is an important safeguard. The conditions will be onerous only to the extent that the person concerned may be prepared to take them on as part of a conditional bail arrangement.
Notwithstanding what I have just said, the Government understand the reasons for the Select Committee's recommendation. We said in our response that we were considering it, and we are. We did not reject it, as was suggested by my hon. Friend the Member for Sunderland, South.
The limit most likely to be acceptable is a limit on the initial period of bail rather than on the duration of the conditions, renewable by the police after the suspect's return to the station. The specified period would need to be long enough to enable most cases to be determined without renewal. On the basis of charging pilots and discussions with the Crown Prosecution Service, it appears that, in most circumstances, a five-week period would be enough to enable charges to be brought. We have heard some debate about the appropriate length of time. I hope, though, that my hon. Friend will be content to accept my assurance that the Select Committee's recommendations have not been rejected, and are being considered.