Police (Detention and Bail) Bill

Part of Business of the House (Police (Detention and Bail) Bill) – in the House of Commons at 2:43 pm on 7th July 2011.

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Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood Conservative, Bournemouth East 2:43 pm, 7th July 2011

It is important that we should have this debate. There has been a lot of discussion about why this has been rushed through in the way that it has. We are here to amend the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. The sole purpose is to clarify the distinction between periods of detention and periods of police bail. I want to add my concern about rushed legislation and fast-tracking Bills. It was before my time, but I can certainly remember the Dangerous Dogs Act 1991 going through—as well as legislation to deal with handguns—at a time when Governments wanted to be seen to be doing something, rather than amend the law in a correct and measured way. It is important when we debate legislation to ensure that there is time to digest the impact, make amendments and allow the public and other interested groups to comment on what is going on.

This, however, is a simple and straightforward Bill. In fact, I have never seen such a short Bill. It consists of one page containing two clauses, the second of which simply deals with the geographical reach of the measure and confirms the Bill’s full name. Indeed, the explanatory notes are longer than the Bill. It is none the less an important Bill. It looks at periods of detention in England and Wales, wherein a suspect can be detained initially for up to 24 hours, and for a further 12 hours if approved by a senior officer such as a superintendent. Detention for a further 36 hours can be applied for through a magistrates court, which can then be added on, giving a total cap of 96 hours, at which point the detention clock, as it has been labelled, stops.

At that point, the police have the option either to charge the suspect or to release them, or to place them on bail. We previously assumed that the detention clock paused when that bail was imposed, and restarted after the bail period was complete. However, we now face a new interpretation of the 1984 Act. Following the murder case involving Paul Hookway, Salford magistrates court has thrown a different light on the provisions. That has led to the police detention period and the bail period being capped at a total of 96 hours. That decision has been upheld in the High Court and, as a consequence, we are now having to rush this legislation through today.

The Opposition have called for temporary legislation or a sunset clause to deal with this, but I think that that is unnecessary on two counts. First, we are a legislative body, and if we eventually find that this legislation is inappropriate, we can come back and amend it through primary legislation at any time. Secondly, this is not new law. It will simply take us back to the status quo.

There has clearly been some confusion since the new interpretation of the law was confirmed, and I have a number of questions for the Minister. During the period of confusion before the Bill gains Royal Assent, what will be the impact on the 80,000 or so people who are on bail at the moment? Given that bail conditions are designed for the protection of victims, will there be any consequences for victims who need to be protected during this period following the reinterpretation of the law? I also want to ask—not flippantly; it is a serious point—whether the Home Office has scoured the remaining sections of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, or indeed the Bail Act 1976, to ensure that no other loopholes are likely be discovered by an eagle-eyed magistrate, resulting in our having to do something similar to this in future?

I very much welcome the Bill, despite the expeditious nature of its passage through the House. It does nothing but change the law on paper, and it will allow the courts to continue to interpret the law in the spirit that the 1984 Act originally intended.