Just one piece of the puzzle – Law Society responds to bail reform

A public consultation on pre-charge bail reform was today announced by the government in the wake of a vocal public backlash to the widespread use of release under investigation (RUI) – which has left victims and the acquitted waiting months or even years for justice.

The Law Society has previously published research on the police use of RUI and made recommendations for reform.

Richard Miller, head of justice at the Law Society of England and Wales, said: “For the past year, we have warned of a major public scandal brewing - so proposals for reform of pre-charge bail and release under investigation are welcome. We look forward to contributing fully.

“However, while it is right to reassess the changes made three years ago, we must avoid throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

“In the interests of both justice to citizens not yet charged and to public safety, pre-charge bail and release under investigation must be used appropriately. We have called for the introduction of strict time limits, a consistent application of risk assessment, and centrally-held data for all suspects under investigation.

“The 2017 Act, though flawed, sought to introduce greater efficiency to police investigations by limiting the use of pre-charge bail and setting deadlines. Lengthy and unfocused investigations are bad for suspects, victims and witnesses alike.

“But officers often struggle to investigate cases expeditiously because of under-resourcing. They have trouble keeping pace with the level of arrests and interviews, and the process for acquiring witness statements and forensics - both digital and standard - can be very time consuming. There are often delays to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) making a charging decision.

“That’s because years of underfunding has left our criminal justice system at breaking point; it simply does not have the resources to function effectively.

“Reform to pre-charge bail, though necessary, is just one piece of a much larger puzzle. If we want swift, fair and efficient justice we must invest in every aspect of our ailing criminal justice system. Otherwise, more crime may fall through the cracks of investigation and prosecution.”

Notes to editors

1) Details of the government consultation are available here: https://www.gov.uk/government/news/government-launches-public-consultation-on-pre-charge-bail

2) Our research into the use of release under investigation found the following:

  • The use of release under investigation (RUI) has increased dramatically since changes were placed on the use of bail in 2017.
  • The number of suspects released on bail has decreased dramatically – appearing to have been replaced almost entirely by RUI in some police authorities. In Thames Valley, the number released on bail between 2016 and 2017 was 13,768. But in 2017-2018 this fell to 379, as the number released under investigation rose to 11053.

3) The average length of investigation is much longer than police bail. In Surrey, there was an average of 228 days. There’s no limit on how long investigations can last – and no requirement to give updates if or when the case will progress. This can cause much anxiety and distress for those involved – including victims.

The full research is available here: https://www.lawsociety.org.uk/news/press-releases/victims-suspects-in-limbo-after-changes-to-police-bail/

About the Law Society

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Press office contact: Liam McCafferty | 02080494028