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Police Bail Crisis: Home Office Feels The Heat

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THERESA MAY

The Home Office can expect a weekend of hard questions over its handling of a legal ruling on how suspects are bailed by the police in England and Wales.

In a statement by Nick Herbert to the Commons on Thursday, the policing minister said, ' If any suspect is released on bail, the judgment means that they are, in effect, still in police detention. That means that time spent on bail should count towards any maximum period of pre-charge detention.'

The new ruling means that suspects may only remain on police bail for four days - after which time officers must either release them or charge them.

Nick Herbert also told MPs, 'In some cases, it will mean that suspects who would normally be released on bail are detained for longer. It is likely that, in most forces, there will not be enough capacity to detain everybody in police cells.'

Most at Westminster expect the Supreme Court to issue a stay on its recent judgement on Monday, giving the government time to rush emergency legislation through Parliament.

But Labour sense this could be the first political crisis to hit the Home Office since the coalition was formed 13 months ago - similar to those which became a common feature of the last government. For several years parts of the Home Office were considered 'not fit for purpose', and a series of Labour Home Secretaries had to resign after failings in the department.

Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper said, “This should have happened six weeks ago. Instead we have had days of chaos for the police, and a minimum of a further three days of chaos because of the Government’s delays.

“The Government should have applied for a suspension of this judgement, pending appeal, six weeks ago. And the emergency legislation that is still not ready should have been passed by Parliament by now.

To be fair to the government, Labour are implying this is a failure by current ministers in the Home Office, when in reality the error has gone un-noticed for a quarter of a century.

But it seems that Greater Manchester Police first warned the Home Office that long-established bail conditions were unlawful in mid-May, but officially the problem wasn't discussed by civil servants until more than a month later, and only landed on ministerial desks on the 24th of June.

Labour are now questioning whether the Home Secretary and the Policing Minister, Nick Herbert, have prevaricated about taking action. They point to Theresa May's trip to Spain yesterday, when it must have been apparent that the legal crisis was brewing.

Since becoming Home Secretary, Theresa May has surprised many commentators at Westminster by rising to the challenges of the brief. She was praised for her handling of the ink-toner bomb plot which affected a cargo plane at East Midlands Airport last November.

This crisis appears to be her first major slip. It'll be interesting to see whether the heat from this crisis lands at her door, or whether Nick Herbert will find himself the scapegoat.

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