Anarchists are fabled for getting into direct action-related scrapes with the law, and although the reputation is often undeserved anarchist groups such as Green and Black Cross do keep a close eye on legal matters. In this article, Dennis Coles looks at major changes to pre-trial detention policy.
Recently we were presented with one of those rare occasions when a right-wing Conservative government comes into near open conflict with the police Establishment in all its forms — from the Police Federation to the College of Policing.
On Monday April 3rd the Policing and Crime Act 2017 came into effect.
The act contains several measures, which will be discussed more in further articles on the Freedom News website, but chief among them was a provision to limit pre-charge bail to 28 days — further extensions of which can be authorised first by higher police ranks and then magistrates.
This is a huge break from the previous state of things where bail could be extended indefinitely by custody sergeants and led to situations were people where kept on bail for months or even years without any charge presented to them.
This change is significant and hugely positive, providing a much needed-check on custody sergeants who knew they could get away with inflicting lengthy bail terms without any scrutiny.
Police bail is nominally used to keep a track of suspects after interview whilst further investigations take place. In reality pre-charge bail was used as a pseudo punishment in itself, keeping people in a stressful legal limbo where the potential of a trial and subsequent punishment was held over their heads.
Even if all investigations were eventually dropped, pre-charge bail would often discourage people from engaging in further direct actions and protests — a great benefit for the police whose main mission is enforcing the status quo of capitalism and State repression.
Of course the cops aren’t happy about the loss of a widely used tool in their arsenal. The College of Policing, responsible for setting standards across the policing infrastructure of the UK, ludicrously whinged in a report that the new restrictions would allow another Ian Huntly to slip through the gaps.
One question legal support organisations and law firms specialising in protest law have had is how the cops were going to respond to this change.
The police have known about the new legislation for a long time, and have had a long time to prepare a response. Their dilemma is an obvious one. Senior officers, those of the rank of inspector or higher, lack the capacity to take on the administrative load of approving bail extensions at the previous rate.
On the other hand cops still want to keep tabs on the people they are investigating, in order to charge them at a later date, or just harass them.
We saw an immediate change in police practice in arrests occurring after the change in the law.
In cases that have come to the attention of legal support organisations arrestees have been released with a form notifying them of further investigations into their case (specifically stating that they are not on bail). Contact details, such as an address and a telephone number, were taken in the hope that people can be found later to be charged and brought to trial.
Needless to say this is incredibly flimsy. Unlike bail people no longer have a legal requirement to return to a police station, instead the police have to come and find anyone they want to rearrest. This adds a huge workload to police services already facing cutbacks and it might mean a lot of cases will be dropped due to lack of resources.
Another thing we’re likely to see in the coming months is an increase in people being charged after they have been interviewed and within the initial period of custody following an arrest. This may seem like a daunting prospect but it can work to your benefit. It gives the police and CPS much less time to gather evidence such as CCTV and the CPS will be forced to disclose preliminary evidence it will be relying on at trial, giving you a much earlier opportunity to prepare a solid defence.
It may be that the new bail restrictions mean police officers will push much harder for confessions or other incriminating statements in interviews as they know it will be much harder to find and charge you if you don’t have to answer to bail. As always, standard know your rights guidance applies. Use a recommended solicitor with a track record in defending protest cases, do not accept any kind of police caution and always answer “no comment.”
There is no doubt that these new bail limitations are a setback for public order cops looking to keep radical action off the street. Senior police officers will be certain to be looking for ways to circumvent, subvert and weaken the new law, and it is important that anarchists and other leftist radicals keep up to date on any future changes to police practices.
Legal support organisations such as the Green and Back Cross and the Legal Defence and Monitoring Group rely on donations to carry on with their work. The printing of bust cards, court support and travel are all some of the things that need funding. If you win money off the cops, or are just loaded, consider giving them some cash so they can carry on keeping people out of jail.
Green and Black Cross
Protest Support Line: 07946 541-511
Legal Defence and Monitoring Group
This article first appeared in the Summer issue of Freedom anarchist journal