Back in the middle of may, I had just finished studying my judicial review modules on my law course, and I thought it would be a good use of a free day to head to court to see judicial review in practice. As luck would have it, there was a case listed that day, the 16th May, at Manchester Civil Justice Centre:
R (Chief Constable of Manchester Police) v Salford City Magistrates, case CO/3649/2011
Interesting, thought I. There had been a few cases in my notes where a decision of a Magistrates Court had been judicially reviewed, but not any on the behest of the police. I decided to attend.
Of course, this case is now known as Hookway. I really couldn’t have chosen a better case to sit in upon, in terms of its repercussions.
The problem highlighted by the case can be summarised pretty quickly. Once the police arrest someone, they only have a certain number of hours to question them before they must be released. That time can be extended, but only to a point. The question is, when a person is released on bail, is the “clock” still running, or has it been paused?
It has been police practice to assume the latter as long as the current régime, introduced in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, has been in force; but the sections in question — 41 to 47 — are remarkably unclear, and in fact make no mention of the clock stopping.
In the court itself, there were eight people. Mr Justice McCombe, the court clerk, one usher, two policemen, one police solicitor, Ms. A Whyte QC, and me. Salford Magistrates and Paul Hookway were not represented.
Everyone in the courtroom that day knew this application was difficult, and that it had consequences. Everyone was fully aware that the repercussions of upholding the lower court’s ruling would be far–reaching. Ms. Whyte QC ably led the court through the complexities of the legislation, pointing out, entirely fairly given that the defendants did not appear, the perspective from both sides of the argument. There was absolutely no previous authority on the question, and only one academic work (which was not on point to the question at hand). The Judge and Ms Whyte slowly and carefully picked their way through the six relevant sections of the act, taking over two hours to do so.
It was hugely interesting to watch these people dissecting the sections of the act in various ways, trying to tease out the precise meaning of the words of the act. Serious people, at a serious task.
Sadly, I was unable to attend the handing–down of the judgment, which happened on Thursday the 19th May. The judgment wasn’t made public until the middle of June — and then, of course, there has been the usual raft of publicity. While there has been some reasonable coverage in the press, it’s sad to see that coverage descended rapidly in the BBC and the Guardian.
Today, two developments have occurred. The Supreme Court have turned down a request for a stay of the ruling, prior to their hearing an appeal from it on the 25th of July. And on Thursday, the Government are introducing legislation to overturn the ruling.
While the details of the legislation are yet to be published, it is very likely that they will change the law to how it was believed to be prior to the ruling in Hookway. This may be a missed opportunity. Letters in the Guardian suggest police bail can be abused, by the imposition of restrictions during bail. Rather than enact in law a patch to re-establish the status quo, might it be time to take a long look at the legislation surrounding arrest, detention and bail, and re–enact it to get rid of its inconsistencies, lack of clarity, and exploits?