A government statement on pre-charge bail reforms has revealed the scale of concern over legislation that has left thousands of suspects languishing while 'released under investigation'. 

Justice minister Alex Chalk said more than 1,000 responses have been submitted to a Home Office consultation on pre-charge bail laws, which closed in May following a coronavirus-related extension. Chalk was responding to a written parliamentary question from shadow legal aid minister Karl Turner about the consultation.

Pre-charge bail allows police to release a suspect from custody, usually subject to conditions, while officers continue their investigation or await a charging decision. Unlike bail, there are no time limits for release under investigation (RUI). Police figures show that since a 28-day time limit for police bail was introduced in 2017, the number of suspects on bail has dropped dramatically. By contrast, the number of suspects released under investigation - including lengthy spells for some - has risen sharply.

The Home Office decided to review pre-charge bail amid concern that it is not always being used where appropriate to protect victims, investigations are taking longer to conclude and that this has had adverse impacts on the courts. 

Turner asked what assessment has been made of the effect of the 2017 reforms on criminal defence solicitors.

Chalk said that police must apply to a magistrate to extend pre-charge bail beyond three months. The Legal Aid Agency amended the 2017 standard crime contract to ensure legal aid was available for defendants in these new court proceedings. Legal aid contracts were also amended to allow providers to submit a payment claim within one month of being notified of an RUI. The claim can be reopened at a later date if the police investigation continues and further work is done.

Chalk said: ‘This amendment was in response to concern from defence practitioner bodies that any delays in investigations could delay the point at which they can apply for payment for work done on legal aid cases.’