Delivered via the Policing and Crime Act 2017, the decision has come about after people had been kept on police bail for anywhere up to a few years, without any formal charge.
Around 4,000 people every year were previously forced to wait 12 months or more for a final charging decision.
The Home Office has stated that the decision “brings an end to the injustice of people being left to languish on very lengthy periods of pre-charge bail”.
However, PFEW’s Deputy General Secretary and Custody Lead Andy Ward has warned: “Release without bail will be the default position – unless bail is necessary and proportionate. One problem is that the Home Office does not spell out what is ‘proportionate’. It will be a massive change in custody culture and be a considerable challenge.”
Mr Ward also stated that the 28-day time limit is ‘unrealistic’ for some types of investigations, “Cyber-crime, for example, requires computers to be seized and equipment to be interrogated to gain evidence. The results for detailed forensic tests also take some time to come back.”
Although the new rule comes into place, police bail can still be extended for up to three months in complex cases with the authorisation of a senior police officer, or even further by applying to a magistrate.
Police need time to continue investigations, and use pre-charge bail when they have questions for a suspect.
A suspect is normally released from custody, and told to report back to a police station at a later date depending on the conditions originally applied.
Previously, there was no legal limit on how long someone could be bailed for.
The 28-day limit is one of several measures taking effect through the Policing and Crime Act 2017.