Supreme Court To Hear Appeal Of Bail Ruling

Police have been granted permission to appeal to the Supreme Court to reverse a ruling that could see tens of thousands of violent criminals escape prosecution.

The controversial ruling, made by a district judge and backed by the High Court on Wednesday , declared suspects could not be on bail for longer than 96 hours.

It said that once the four days is up, they would have to charge or release the suspect and could only re-arrest them if any new evidence comes to light.

The move sparked fears policing will be drastically hindered and the Supreme Court has now agreed to hear an appeal on July 25.

The announcement came after Policing Minister Nick Herbert told MPs the Government would urgently bring forward emergency legislation to overturn it.

Mr Herbert said the issue was of "grave concern" and warned there was not enough time to wait for the appeal to the Supreme Court .

The minister said urgent action was needed because the judgment would have a "serious impact" on the police's ability to investigate crime.

"We cannot, must not and will not ask the police to do their work with one hand tied behind their backs," he said.

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper claimed the Government should have acted sooner.

"There has been considerable chaos in the Home Office around this, not just this week but for the last few weeks," she told Mr Herbert.

Mr Herbert admitted officials were told of the oral judgment in May but said its full impact only became clear when the written judgment was handed down on June 17 and ministers were alerted on June 24.

He said emergency legislation will "clarify the position and provide assurance that the police can continue to operate on the basis they have been operating for many years".

He added: "This judgment upsets a careful balance which has stood for a quarter of a century and impedes the police from doing their job. That is why it must be reversed."

The ruling came from Salford Magistrates Court where a judge decided murder suspect Paul Hookaway could not be held for further questioning because the application to detain him for 36 hours expired months before, even though officers released him after 28.

The approach was then backed by the High Court but has consequences for thousands of other cases.

Estimates suggest up to 80,000 people are currently on bail and could be affected, prompting fears thousands of criminals may not be questioned enough for the cases to be taken to court.

Chief constable Sir Norman Bettison, from West Yorkshire Police , said on Wednesday that officers were "running around like headless chickens" as they sought to understand the implications of the decision.

"It's on the verge of a disaster now because the question being asked by my custody sergeants is, 'what do we do, boss?'

"I cannot countenance turning people away from the charge office and telling them all bets are off and they are free to go," he said.

James Welch, legal director for the civil rights group Liberty, said: "Being out on bail pending investigation is not the equivalent of being detained.

"Limits on the time that suspects can be held in police custody are necessary but there are good reasons why the police should be allowed to bail suspects for more than 96 hours."

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