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Home Secretary to introduce Kay’s Law in bid to better protect victims of crime

18 January 2021

NEW LAWS designed to reform pre-charge bail will provide better protection for victims and witnesses in cases of violent and sexual offences, Home Secretary Priti Patel has announced.

The Home Office has now published its response to a consultation on pre-charge bail, which allows police to release a suspect from custody subject to specific conditions while they gather evidence or await a charging decision.

These new measures will ensure a system where individuals are not held on bail for unreasonable lengths of time, while also enabling police to impose strict conditions on more suspects in high-harm cases, including most cases of domestic abuse and sexual violence.

The full package of reforms will be named Kay’s Law in memory of Kay Richardson who was murdered by her ex-partner following his release under investigation despite evidence of previous domestic abuse. The naming decision also intends to help raise awareness of the new reforms among police and the public and encourage greater use of pre-charge bail where necessary and proportionate, as well as increased engagement with victims.

The measures will be brought before Parliament in a major Criminal Justice Bill to be introduced as soon as time in the House allows. The Bill will provide better support and protection to police, create safer communities and make sure those guilty of heinous crimes spend longer behind bars.

Pain and suffering

Home Secretary Priti Patel said: “I cannot imagine the pain and suffering of the families of victims like Kay Richardson, and I want them to know their voices have been heard. Victims and witnesses of the most distressing crimes, including domestic abuse and sexual violence, must be protected while allegations are investigated. It’s my priority to deliver justice for victims and Kay’s Law will put victims at the heart of the bail system, empower police to ensure that suspects are closely monitored and protect the public.”

Ellie Butt, head of policy at Refuge, res;ponded: “Refuge is pleased to see the Government making changes to pre-charge bail. Far too many survivors of domestic and sexual abuse who bravely report crimes to the police see alleged perpetrators released under investigation, meaning there are no restrictions on contacting the survivor. This puts many women and children at real risk of harm and is a huge disincentive to reporting. Due to the dynamics of domestic abuse and sexual violence, it’s vital that bail is used in all cases. We hope these changes will be swiftly passed into law.”

Consultation timeline

The pre-charge bail consultation ran between February and May last year and received a total of 844 responses from groups including law enforcement, charities and legal bodies.

More than four-in-five respondents agreed with removing the presumption against pre-charge bail. This presumption has led to large numbers of suspects being released under investigation for lengthy periods whereby they’re not required to report to the police at regular intervals.

Reforms to pre-charge bail timescales will also be introduced, with the initial pre-charge bail period increased from 28 days to three months (ie 90 days), with further extensions requiring sign-off from a police inspector or above.

The new timescales will cut red tape for police while also ensuring that individuals are not held on bail for unreasonable lengths of time.

Protecting victims and witnesses

Chief constable Darren Martland, the National Police Chiefs Council’s lead for bail management, observed: “We’re committed to doing everything we can to protect victims and witnesses as investigations progress. It’s important to ensure bail is properly used to best effect, which includes respecting the rights of suspects and balancing the impact on victims and witnesses.”

He continued: “We will continue to work with the Home Office and the College of Policing such that we’re striking that balance between protecting vulnerable victims and witnesses, while also upholding the rights of suspects. Our first priority will always be to keep people safe.”

The new measures come as the Home Office launches its domestic abuse codeword scheme to help domestic abuse victims receive immediate help from the police or other support services. Working with independent pharmacies and Boots pharmacy chains during the new lockdown, the scheme helps to ensure victims receive easier access to much-needed support from thousands of pharmacies located right across the UK.