At Regan Peggs Solicitors, we are always keen to celebrate the successes of all our staff. The firm’s paralegal, Gemma Tibbatts, has been working hard on a particular case over the past few months which, despite only being at the police investigation stage, has already thrown up many challenges along the way.
Here, Gemma discusses a recent breakthrough – one which we are pleased to say has come about thanks to her insight, persistence and excellent legal instinct.
Justice whilst on police bail – our client’s story
Our client in this case has no previous convictions, and is a working family man. He was arrested and interviewed in July, but was not charged at that time. The police had seized several computers from his home and so they released our client on pre-charge bail, pending the analysis of those computers.
Our client had several bail conditions he had to comply with, one of which stopped him from returning to his home address. This has caused our client and his young family financial hardship, as well as emotional distress.
Application to vary our client’s bail
After approximately 2 months on pre-charge bail, there had been no further update from the police regarding the analysis of the electronic devices seized.
I therefore wrote to the investigating officer to ask whether he would be willing to vary some of our client’s conditions, so that he could go home. We hoped to persuade the officer to see sense, and save a lot of time and money.
The officer refused to vary our client’s bail conditions. As there was no real justification for the conditions, we applied to the Magistrates’ Court to vary our client’s bail. I drafted a detailed application, reminding the court that any bail conditions imposed on a suspect must be necessary, reasonable and proportionate. I submitted that the interference with our client’s family life was entirely disproportionate, and was not necessary to protect anyone, or prevent further offending.
There was a hearing at the Magistrates’ Court to decide whether our client’s bail condition should be varied. The police were in attendance and were represented by a Crown Prosecutor, who put forward their arguments against the variation. Regan attended to represent our client and put forward our arguments in favour of the variation.
The magistrates allowed the variation in part, but crucially refused to remove the residence condition, on the ground that our client’s family “might” be at a substantial risk of harm. This was the wrong test – the court was supposed to consider whether there is a substantial risk of harm.
It was Regan’s advice that we should submit a Judicial Review application to the High Court, about the incorrect test applied by the magistrates. It was hoped that the High Court would make a declaration that the magistrates had applied the wrong test, and remove the bail condition. This application was submitted within days of the magistrates’ decision.
Pre-charge bail extension
New provisions relating to pre-charge bail were introduced earlier this year. They were designed to ensure that suspects are not left to languish on very lengthy periods of pre-charge bail, while the police conduct their investigations at leisure.
The provisions allow suspects to be released on pre-charge bail for 28 days to begin with. This can be extended for a further 3 months by a senior police officer. This is what happened in our client’s case and his bail date was moved to early October. If the police want to extend it beyond this 4-month limit, they must apply to the Magistrates’ Court, who will decide if there should be an extension of the bail period.
As our client’s bail date approached, the officer applied to the court for a further 3 months of bail. After carefully considering the officer’s application, I drafted a detailed response, setting out exactly why we objected to a further pre-charge bail extension and felt it was entirely unnecessary.
I reminded the court that extending our client’s pre-charge bail period, for a further 3 months, would go against the purpose of the new provisions. I pointed out that the police had done almost nothing during the 4 months they had already had. I did not see why our client should be made to comply with such intrusive bail conditions, while they took another 3 months to analyse them. I also pointed out there had been a lengthy delay between the police seizing the devices, and submitting them to their forensic department. The reasons for this delay were not mentioned by the police in their application.
I submitted that the interference with our client’s family life, caused by the current conditions, had not been justified thus far and so if the extension were granted, this interference would only continue for much longer than was necessary.
A few days after submitting our response to the magistrates’ court, I received a telephone call from our client, who had received a letter from the court. This letter said that the police’s application to extend his pre-charge bail had been granted and his new return bail date would now be in January 2018.
I was very surprised that the police application had been granted, and therefore contacted the court. It transpired that there had been a mistake, and that the application had actually been refused! This meant that our client had been complying with his bail conditions for the last 7 days, when he was in fact no longer on bail, as of 7 days ago. We informed the client immediately and were delighted to inform him this meant he was able to return home.
We have since advised our client that he can make a claim for compensation against the court, since he was incorrectly told he was still on bail, when he was in fact not on bail. We are now preparing this compensation claim for him.
This decision also affects our judicial review application. We intend to pursue that claim, since we would like the High Court to state that the Magistrates applied the wrong test, so that other clients do not have to suffer in the same way.
If any of this sounds like a difficulty you have, please do contact Gemma on 0121 201 3765 or firstname.lastname@example.org.