The police are taking nearly three times longer to investigate crimes than seven years ago. According to new Home Office data comparing the first three months of 2016 with the same period in 2023, the time to charge or summons for all offences almost tripled, rising by 188% from an average of 16 days to an average of 46 days. The time to charge or summons for sexual offences excluding rape more than doubled, rising 124% from an average of 110 days to 247 days – and the time for rape rose by 78% from an average of 174 days to 309 days.
The data came from 39 of the 43 police forces in England and Wales and was obtained as a result of a Freedom of Information request by the law firm Hickman & Rose. ‘Generally speaking, the police now take far longer to investigate crimes than they did a decade ago,’ commented Jenny Wiltshire, head of crime at Hickman & Rose. ‘The main cause of this is a lack of resources. Most police forces do not have enough expert officers to deal with the volume of crime they face nor the complexity of the modern investigatory process.’ According to new statistics, the average time taken by the police to bring a case to charge or summons rose from just over two weeks in 2016 to a month and a half earlier this year.
Wiltshire added that it was ‘notable’ that delays have increased since the introduction of Release Under Investigation (RUI) as an alternative to police bail in 2017. ‘RUI was meant to end the problem of suspects being kept on bail for years on end, but it has instead allowed investigations to drift as there are no longer any bail dates to work towards,’ she added. ‘RUI effectively gives the police carte blanche to take all the time they like.’
She said delays caused problems throughout the justice system as ‘victims are obliged to wait for justice; while suspects may have to put their lives on hold before they can have their day in court’. ‘And this is just the tip of the iceberg. When decisions are finally made, court backlogs compound the problem, meaning achieving justice can take years, even for relatively straightforward matters,’ she added.
Hickman & Rose point out that the statistics covered robbery and all sexual offences excluding rape’. But add that the ‘two data points can be put alongside published statistics for the offence of adult rape to paint a broad picture of police performance nationwide’. The time to charge or summons for robbery rose by 27% from an average of 37 days to 47 days.
Jenny Wiltshire also pointed out that the data did not reveal how long it takes the police to decide not to proceed. ‘I have had clients who have waited for many years while the police investigate, only to be informed that the case is being closed with no further action being taken.’