Campaigners welcomed the “long overdue” measures as they warned the current system leaves women in grave danger due to victims habitually not being consulted or informed when a perpetrator’s bail conditions come to an end.
The overhaul, which will fall under the Protection of the Police and Public, Courts and Sentencing Bill, will mean police have to look at how to keep victims safe when choosing suspects’ pre-charge bail conditions during ongoing investigations.
Nogah Ofer, solicitor at the Centre for Women’s Justice, a leading legal charity, said: “This bill is long overdue, and all police forces must ensure that they provide the protections that victims and survivors of domestic abuse need. It is simply not good enough for officers to tell women to obtain their own civil protection orders, that is the job of the police.
“We urge police forces to ensure that officers actually apply the new law and use bail conditions to protect vulnerable people. Victims and survivors should be consulted before any decision on use of bail conditions, and before bail conditions are lifted, so that officers assess risks properly.”
She said the government’s “U-turn” was partly sparked by a police super-complaint the charity launched in March 2019 - adding the legislation overturns a slew of bail measures rolled out by the government in April 2017 which placed domestic abuse victims at risk.
Dame Vera Baird, Victims’ Commissioner for England and Wales, noted the government had been “warned” the 2017 reforms “could do more harm than good".
She added: “And so it has proved to be. This was a misconceived move, which has been bad for victims. We now need police bail that protects victims and gives the public confidence.
“There must be a presumption in favour of bail with conditions in all cases where the allegation is of serious sexual or violent offences and other serious crimes. It is important that complainants are contacted to ask whether there are any fears or threats which may inform a police bail decision.”
The new measures will be called “Kay’s Law” to commemorate Kay Richardson who was murdered by her ex-partner in August 2019 after he was handed the keys to their house when released without bail conditions despite there being evidence of domestic abuse he perpetrated against her.
Ellie Butt, of Refuge, the UK's largest provider of shelters for domestic abuse victims, said: “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 is vital that bail is used in all cases, we hope these changes will achieve this and will be swiftly passed into law.”
The government says the measures will make sure people are not held on bail for “unreasonable lengths of time”.
Nicole Jacobs, Domestic Abuse Commissioner for England and Wales, said: “I have seen closely how the reforms made to the Bail Act negatively affected victims and survivors of domestic abuse since they were introduced just over three years ago.
“Too often, the presumption against pre-charge bail has meant that perpetrators of domestic abuse have not been subject to bail conditions which meant they could continue to intimidate their victims and cause untold anxiety, fear and concern.”
Chief Constable Darren Martland, who is the National Police Chiefs’ Council Lead for Bail Management, said they will do “everything we can” to safeguard victims and witnesses during investigations.
He added: “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.”