Government reforms to prevent people languishing for long spells under pre-charge bail may have resulted in thousands of suspects languishing in legal limbo instead, it has emerged.
The London Criminal Courts Solicitors' Association is trying to gather hard data on how many suspects are being released under investigation since a 28-day time limit for police bail came into force in April 2017.
The time limit, introduced through the Policing and Crime Act 2017, was welcomed. But the association said tight police resources meant it was unrealistic to complete many investigations within 28 days or seek a bail extension. The only workaround was to release suspects under investigation. As a result, suspects face uncertainty without time limits or constraints on the police.
'Very often if a decision to charge is made many months past the police interview the suspect has moved home and has lost contact with their solicitor. Postal requisitions do not reach their intended recipient and cause additional delays to the court system and extra work for the police,' the association said.
'There can be terrible consequences for whole families. For example, an individual under investigation for possession with intent to supply was released under investigation for an entire year. Because of this outstanding criminal matter, his family’s application for leave to remain was rejected. Others have had their electronic devices retained by police for over a year while under investigation with no access to important work documents.'
The association wants to know how many suspects are being released under investigation. It has been unable to obtain the information through official channels such as the government so is now surveying criminal defence practitioners.
Over 100 responses have been received so far. Jon Black, LCCSA president, said some of the cases involve allegations of rape and fraud. There are also several examples where the investigation has taken around 18 months.
The survey closes on 28 May. Armed with the data, the association wants to arrange a roundtable discussion with prosecutors, police chiefs and politicians.
Announcing the 28-day time limit for police bail in April 2017, then home secretary Amber Rudd said pre-charge bail was useful and necessary but in many cases was being imposed on people for many months, or even years, without judicial oversight.
In March this year, the Centre for Women's Justice made a 'super-complaint' drawing together what it said were failures by the police to utilise four separate legal protections that exist for the benefit of vulnerable people experiencing domestic abuse, sexual violence, harassment and stalking. These included failure to impose bail conditions where suspects are released under investigation without bail.