Police leave Victims & Suspects in Limbo says Law Society

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Police leave Victims & Suspects in Limbo says Law Society

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In a recent press release the Law Society has released data which has been collected by law firm Hickman Rose showing that the Policing & Crime Act 2017 has had a significant impact on the way that police are dealing with suspects and have said that the current regime is leaving suspects in limbo. In September 2017 we wrote about our concerns about suspects released “wondering what might happen in the future” which “can be very stressful as suspects are left in ‘limbo’”.

The society is an independent professional body that works globally to support and represent 180,000 solicitors, promoting the highest professional standards and the rule of law.

The society highlights a number of issues and makes recommendations for changes in the system including time limits for those released under investigation, better communication between police and suspects, better and consistent data collection by police forces and fairer pay for defence solicitors.

Burton Copeland predicted many of these issues as long ago as September 2017 in our article 28 Day Pre-charge Bail Limit – is it as good as it seems? In which we commented on whether the new bail provisions work or whether the new bail provision had made matters worse.

When did the law change on Release Under Investigation (RUI) & Pre-charge Bail?

The law changed in April 2017 as suspects were often being on bail and subject to punitive conditions for considerable periods of time. The law changed with the implementation of the Policing & Crime Act 2017 which brought in a time limit of 28 days for suspects being held on bail prior to being charged with an offence. That period can be extended up to 3 months by an officer of superintendent or above and for a further 3 months on application to a Magistrates Court.

What are the problems with RUI & Pre-charge Bail?

As we pointed out in September 2017 we saw that “far more suspects who, having been arrested, are not being released on bail at all but are released under investigation”. The data published by the law society confirms what we saw and the examples in some cases are shocking.

The figures show that in many forces the number of suspects being released on bail has dropped significantly. By way of example between 2016 & 2017 Thames Valley released13, 768 suspects on bail but the following year the figure was 379, a drop of over 3500%

This means that many who previously would have been subjected to bail conditions are now being released without them and are going on to commit other offences. The Law Society provides a shocking an example of a suspect who was released under investigation for two separate knife crime murders. This individual was also released under investigation for two separate knife robbery offences and during the time he was subject to RUI he was also charged and went to trial for a separate S18 GBH offence also involving a knife.

For suspects who have been interviewed by police and then released under investigation it can feel that they are left in ‘limbo’ as they are often unaware whether they remain a suspect or not. They are often not provided with updates and have to rely on their solicitors to chase up police officers for updates in the investigation. One further difficulty is that some solicitors don’t make those inquiries as they are not paid to do so. The fixed fee scheme never anticipated the extremely time consuming work of chasing officers and updating clients.

What changes Does the Law Society want on release under investigation?

The Law Society makes a number of recommendations:

  1. Ensure RUI is used appropriately – to ensure that those who are a potential risk to the complainant or public are not released under investigation.
  2. Impose Time Limits on RUI – they suggest a scheme similar to the pre-charge bail provisions but rather than 28 days, they propose 56 days authorised by a sergeant, with approval needed from a Chief Inspector or Superintendent for an extension to 6 months. For an extension of up 12 months, approval from a magistrate would be needed.
  3. Better Communication with suspects – including the use of email and text messages to update individuals.
  4. Better data collection – to assist in monitoring the numbers from force to force and determine whether RUI or bail are being used appropriately.
  5. Fairer remuneration for solicitors – an increase in the legal aid rates for solicitors.

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