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Calls for time limits on use of police bail

Tens of thousands of people are languishing on police bail waiting to see if charges will ever be brought against them, a BBC investigation has found.

Nearly 1,000 people have been kept on police bail for more than six months by the Metropolitan Police alone, a freedom of information request found – though some forces, like Leicestershire and South Wales, barely use the practice at all, with just one person each out on police bail, according to data obtained under freedom of information laws.

There is no limit on the amount of time a person can be kept on police bail while officers attempt to make a case against them before charges are brought, which some say is ruining lives.

The Law Society says there is not enough accountability for police decisions to keep people on virtually indefinite bail, which can seriously disrupt their lives and livelihoods.

The chairman of the society's criminal law committee, Richard Atkinson, told the BBC: “I would call for a 28-day statutory maximum period for police bail. But it could be extended by applying to a magistrate. There, police would have to explain what stage they were at in their investigation and why a further 28-day extension of bail was necessary.”

The Police Federation said cuts to budgets were forcing resources to be spread more thinly.

An ACPO spokesperson said police services did not want to keep either victims or those on police bail waiting indefinitely and that they always seek to bring cases to a close as expeditiously as possibly. A Home Office spokesman said: “We continue to keep police bail provisions under review to ensure they strike the right balance between protecting an individual's right to civil liberty and allowing police to carry out thorough criminal investigations.”

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