Criminal justice

'A major scandal is brewing' - senior lawyers issue suspect release warning

People suspected of offences including rape and murder have been among those released under investigation (RUI).

An investigation by Newsnight showed that 93,000 suspected violent criminals and sex offenders have been released in the wake of law changes in 2017.

Meanwhile, a Law Society review earlier this year revealed that suspects and victims are in some cases waiting years for justice.

Richard Miller, head of justice at the Law Society of England and Wales, said a “major scandal” was brewing.

“A record number of suspects are being released under investigation without conditions or time limits.

“RUI is currently being used for the full range of crimes including murder and rape without any risk assessment.”

Police authorities struggle to investigate cases expeditiously because of resource pressure and are often unable to meet the 28-day limit on pre-charge bail. The use of RUI has skyrocketed as a result.

“In the interests of both justice and public safety, RUI must be used appropriately. Police forces must ensure they consistently assess risk.

“There also must be limits on the period of time people are left facing criminal investigation. Suspects can be left under the cloud of suspicion for years, and victims of serious offences, such as rape or violent crimes, are denied closure and may live in fear of being confronted by the accused.

“This can have life-changing consequences, particularly for cases involving young people. We are losing opportunities to turn young offenders away from crime and are failing young victims.

“The Home Office must introduce a centrally-held register collating the numbers of people released under investigation, broken down by police authority area and offence. Police authorities must be able to provide updates on the status of an investigation.

“We must aspire to deliver swift justice, which is impossible on the cheap. Without wider investment, we risk a bottleneck effect. As a result, more crime could fall through the cracks of investigation and prosecution.”

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