A change in the bail regime to prevent suspects being left indefinitely under suspicion appears to have backfired. Since April 2017, police forces have faced a 28 day maximum on bail which can only be extended in exceptional circumstances. Anyone the police intends to investigate beyond this period can be released, without conditions, in line with a new ‘under investigation’ status.
More than half of defence lawyers in a new study by the London Criminal Court Solicitors’ Association reported cases that already lasted between 18 months and two years. Some 109 defence lawyers responded to the survey and reckoned that 6,519 suspects had been released ‘under investigation’ in the last six months.
All respondents felt that delay had a negative impact on their client’s employment status and 98% felt that the experience had adversely effected mental health. In more than eight out of 10 cases the police provided no explanation for delay (83%).
Kerry Hudson, solicitor and vice president of LCCSA, said that the new regime had ‘made the situation worse for suspects, the police and complainants – the absolute opposite of what was intended. It goes against all principles of natural justice’.
‘Most clients find it difficult to move on with their lives,’ commented Rumit Shah, of law firm Galbraith Branley in London. ‘Some are left in limbo for such a long time that it has an impact on their mental wellbeing and affects the loved ones around them.’ According to Shah, the new approach also failed victims and witnesses either because investigation now took so long. ‘They want to forget about it. If after some time charges are proceeded they have to relive the whole thing again.’
‘The clear link between wrongdoing, arrest, charge and court is broken. Criminal investigation has become a bureaucratic process even for quite serious cases. Whereas in the past the police had a clear idea of their role; arrest and prosecution were the fundamentals of a police career, now with understaffing, increased paperwork and the deferment of charging decisions a strong element of frustration and lack of enthusiasm has become apparent.’
The longest a case has been under investigation was four years – in other words, predating the new regime. Of the cases that lasted between 18 months and two years, 22 cases were allegations of rape, 12 allegations of sexual offences, and ten allegations of possession with intent to supply a controlled.