This deals some contentious issues, particularly the issue of the use of pre-charge bail and anonymity for those accused of sexual offences.
We have covered these issues on many different occasions, a sample being :
- Do the Police abuse bail?
- Mark George QC on anonymity for suspects
- The Law on anonymity for complainants
- Pre-Charge Bail consultation (and my response)
- Pam Ayres views on anonymity
The report is a short one, but if you want to cut to the chase, you can just go straight to the recommendations.
The main changes recommended are in relation to pre-charge bail. A bail period of 28 days is the starting point. Any application to extend this should be made to the magistrates court. If the extension is to go past six months, then the application should be to the Crown Court. The subject of the investigation should be able to make representations during this process.
If someone has been on bail for more than six months and then subject to no further action, then the CPS should give them a written letter or explanation/apology.
What may be perhaps more contentious is the proposal that those arrested of sexual offences should be granted anonymity until such time as they are charged.
In relation to the proposals on bail, they are pretty similar to what I proposed in my consultation response, so it is unsurprising that I agree with them. It is an area that, due to the complexities of modern life and a lack of resources, has drifted with the result that long periods of (unnecessary) bail are relatively frequent.
This will need legislation, and this is obviously not going to be happening in the current Parliament. It is a relatively easy legislative change, but we will have to await the outcome of the election to see if there is the political will.
In relation to anonymity, it is important to remember two things. Firstly, this is not anonymity until conviction, only until charge, and so a lot of the objections (such as that the publicity means other people come forward) are not as significant. Secondly, this is anonymity to the press and public at large. Obviously the police will record allegations and will be able to cross-reference allegations between themselves.
Since 1st October 2012, there has been pre-charge anonymity for teachers accused of offences against pupils (s13 Education Act 2011). I’m not aware of any analysis being conducted of this, but I’m not aware of any suggestion that this has caused any difficulties).
The one oddity is why pre-charge anonymity should not apply to all suspects, not just those accused of sexual offences. Prior to charge, very different considerations apply, and this seems a sensible compromise.
The requirement that the CPS write to a suspect who is subject to no further action with an explanation (not, as I saw on one comment from twitter, an “acknowledgement that they were falsely accused‘) of why they were subject to no further action is a sensible and fair one.