Changes to pre-charge bail

Changes to pre-charge bail, also known as police bail, came into force across England and Wales on 3 April 2017.

The Policing and Crime Act, which was given Royal Assent in January, introduced a number of changes to policing.

These include changes to the pre-charge bail process and means that the powers to release a suspect on bail have changed under the new legislation.

What do you need to know?

The changes to bail apply to all arrests made after midnight on Monday 3 April.

The biggest change is that there is now a presumption of release without bail unless strict criteria are met around necessity and proportionality.

The decision as to whether a suspect will be released on bail will be made on a case by case basis.

There are three main bail periods that can be authorised by police. These are as follows:

  1. An initial bail period for 28 days authorised by an inspector;
  2. An extension to the initial bail period, to three calendar months from the bail start date, authorised by a superintendent;
  3. A further three calendar month extension, authorised by an assistant chief constable or commander. This extension only applies to exceptionally complex cases.

All other extensions to the bail period beyond this point will have to be authorised by a Magistrates’ Court.

The changes to pre-charge bail do not affect the role of police in serving and protecting the public. The grounds for arresting an individual remain the same, crime will still be investigated fully and victims will continue to be supported.

Overview of the Policing and Crime Act 2017

The Policing and Crime Act includes provisions which, according to the Home Office, will:

  1. “Reform pre-charge bail to stop people remaining on bail for lengthy periods without independent judicial scrutiny of its continued necessity”
  2. “Enable chief officers to make the most efficient and effective use of their workforce by giving them the flexibility to confer a wider range of powers on police staff and volunteers (while for the first time specifying a core list of powers that may only be exercised by warranted police officers)”
  3. “Place a duty on police, fire and ambulance services to work together and enable police and crime commissioners to take on responsibility for fire and rescue services where a local case is made”
  4. “Stop the detention in police cells of children and young people under 18 who are experiencing a mental health crisis (and restrict the circumstances when adults can be taken to police stations) by reforming police powers under sections 135 and 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983”
  5. “Reform the police complaints and disciplinary systems to ensure that the public have confidence in their ability to hold the police to account, and that police officers will uphold the highest standards of integrity”
  6. “Increase the maximum sentence from 5 to 10 years’ imprisonment for those convicted of the most serious cases of stalking and harassment”
  7. “Amend the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, including to ensure that 17-year-olds who are detained in police custody are treated as children for all purposes, and to increase the use of video link technology”
  8. “Amend the Firearms Acts, including to better protect the public by closing loopholes that can be exploited by criminals and terrorists”
  9. “Confer an automatic pardon on deceased individuals convicted of certain consensual gay sexual offences which would not be offences today, and on those persons still living who have had the conviction disregarded under the provisions of the Protection of Freedoms Act 2012”.

For more information on the Policing and Crime Act, please visit the Home Office website.

Further information on the subject of bail.

The temporary release of a person suspected or accused of an offence with a duty to surrender themselves to a court or a police station in the future. Bail may be unconditional or with conditions which restrict activity, contact with others or frequenting specific locations. Additionally there are occasions where a sum of money (called a Surety) may be required and lodged to guarantee their appearance.

Failing to answer bail or complying with bail conditions can cause a person to be arrested and provide grounds to refuse bail.

There’s a difference between 'bail before being charged' where the investigation is ongoing and 'bail where a person is charged'. Before being charged, bail is given to return to a police station at a date and time and this is sometimes referred to ‘section 47 bail’. After being charged it will be bail to appear at court for the offence(s).


To be formally accused of committing an offence where the offence is read out according to a form of words under law. Generally it means the investigation is complete and it progresses to court. A written copy of the charge is also provided.

Related concerns

Why is bail used

People have a right to bail by law.  It is a way of legally binding a person to a process of investigation or prosecution.

Where people are bailed as part of ongoing investigations, conditions can be imposed to prevent further offences committed, obstruct the course of justice, intimidate witnesses (which includes the victim) or to ensure they answer bail. For example, a condition might be to sign at a police station on certain days at specific times.

This is the same for people charged with an offence to attend court, but with the additional option that bail may be refused so they are remanded to appear at the next available court.

Back to related concerns

What is 'refused bail'?

This is where a person has been charged and the police or the court has decided bail should not be granted because there are reasons to believe:

  • Further offences may be committed.
  • Fail to surrender to bail, commit an offence on bail.
  • Interfere with witnesses.
  • Obstruct the course of justice.

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I'm on bail and have lost my paperwork

Contact the relevant officer dealing with your case as soon as possible and you can be provided with a copy of the information you need. This does not provide a reason to fail to answer bail or breach any conditions.

It’s important that any paperwork or documentation provided by the police or court is retained. For example, your solicitor may wish to see them.

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Can juveniles be 'refused bail'

For juveniles (young people under 17 years of age) there are circumstances where bail may be refused. Normally steps are taken for the young person to be taken into the care of the local authority pending the court hearing unless:

  • It is not practicable to do so such, as the local authority is unable to take them into their care.
  • The juvenile is at least 12 years old, no secure accommodation is available and any other accommodation is not adequate to protect the public from serious harm from that juvenile.

In such circumstances the juvenile will remain at the police station until they can be escorted to the relevant court. For breach of bail or an arrest under a warrant, there is no requirement to transfer to local authority care.

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I want to change my bail conditions

Bail conditions given by the police and not yet appeared at court:  You need to contact the police station who released you on bail and speak with a custody officer. Alternatively contact your solicitor who may make representations on your behalf. The custody officer will decide if your conditions can be changed.

Bail given by a court: You need to contact the relevant court as the police will not be able to consider your request. You’re advised to contact your solicitor who can make representations on your behalf.

Please be aware that any application for a change to your bail conditions can take time, whether to the police or the court.

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What if I'm on bail and can't sign or answer on time?

Failure to comply with conditions set by the police or the court which you accepted as a condition of your release is likely to result in your arrest.

There are circumstances where it’s understandable people will not be able to answer bail such as being at hospital, in police custody or too ill to sign. Documentary proof is required from you (such as a doctor's note), as the police will not make enquires to confirm your reasons. Explanations such as financial or transportation problems, oversleeping, forgetting or losing your paperwork are not recognised as valid excuses.

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Someone I know is on bail and breaching their conditions

Contact the police by emailing 101 to inform them. You may be asked to provide your details and the police may ask you to provide a statement. Even if you don’t want to give your name and details, if someone is breaking any of their conditions we still want to know. If someone is at risk of immediate harm you need to dial 999.

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Source: North Wales Police

Non Emergency Directory (NED)

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