Belfast Telegraph

PSNI 'facing class action by suspects held too long'

Thousands of crime suspects in Northern Ireland could sue over potentially being held in police custody beyond the maximum permitted detention period, a court has heard.

As a Belfast man facing burglary allegations launched a legal bid to have charges against him quashed, his lawyer set out the possibility of mass litigation.

The case, heard yesterday by three High Court judges, centres on the amount of time police have to question suspected criminals.

Emergency laws were introduced in England and Wales following a shock ruling that time spent on police bail counted towards the maximum 96-hour limit of pre-charge detention.

Mr Justice McCombe's verdict earlier this year, in a case involving murder suspect Paul Hookway, effectively had given detectives just four days from arrest to gather evidence against a person and then either charge or release them.

For years police regularly bailed suspects and brought them back for questioning at a later date.

But despite Northern Ireland operating under similar Police and Criminal Evidence (PACE) legislation, similar changes to the law have yet to be introduced by Stormont. The situation has prompted a judicial review challenge by James Connelly, who was charged with burglary offences last month.

Mr Connelly (31) of Cliftonpark Avenue, Belfast, was first arrested in April, and then questioned again in June and July.

His lawyers are seeking an order quashing decisions by the PSNI to detain him on the latter two occasions and to charge him.

His legal team argued that the period of detention - an initial 24 hours which can be extended up to the 96-hour limit - had elapsed and police had no right to bring him back in.

It was also disputed that the PACE detention clock can be stopped while the suspect is on pre-charge police bail and then restarted when he is brought back into custody.

Paul Maguire QC, for the PSNI, pointed out that Mr Connelly was detained just under six-and-a-half hours in total.

The judges, Lord Chief Justice Sir Declan Morgan, Mr Justice Weatherup and Mr Justice McCloskey, reserved their decision on the challenge.

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