Thousands of people have been left in 'legal limbo' as a result of government reforms to pre-charge bail, which is affecting their mental health, family life and employment status, criminal defence solicitors have said.

The London Criminal Courts Solicitors' Association has been surveying members for the past month on how many suspects are being released under investigation since a 28-day time limit for police bail came into force in April 2017. 

Publishing the results today, 109 solicitors who responded to the survey reported a total of 6,519 cases where their client has been released under investigation in the past three months. One firm had 200 such cases.

More than half of respondents have cases under police investigation which have already lasted between 18 months and two years. These includes 22 cases involving rape allegations.

Nearly everyone said investigation delays had affected their clients' mental health, family life and employment status. Eight in 10 said the police did not explain why the case was taking so long.

In one case, the association said a teenager was arrested during exam season for indecent images on a device and was prevented from living at home. Several years later the case was dropped on the basis of evidence provided for police examination early in the investigation.

Criminal defence specialist Kerry Hudson, the association's vice president, explained that typically, after arresting a suspect, police put the suspect on a 'bail to return' for 28 days with conditions. Before 28 days, the case is converted to a 'release under investigation' with no conditions, 'and without going anywhere near a court for scrutiny from a judge or magistrate'.

Hudson said: 'This legal no man's land emerged as a fudged workaround by hard-pressed, under-resourced police. It is failing everyone in the justice system. For suspects - who let's remember are innocent until proven guilty - it spells a life on hold, causing untold stress and mental health problems, shattering families, homes and livelihoods.'

This is the first attempt to gather hard data on the impact of the government's reform. Armed with this data, the association wants to arrange a roundtable discussion with prosecutors, police chiefs and politicians.