Have you been ‘released under investigation’? What are the implications of this for your case?
Nick Titchener, director and solicitor advocate at London criminal defence solicitors, Lawtons, discusses the changes to police bail in the UK and what they mean.
Changes to police bail in the UK
In recent years, there have been several high-profile changes to how the police conduct investigations into criminal cases and how they deal with suspects. With an ever increasing demand on limited financial resources, the police have not been immune to budget cuts. With this in mind, there has been an increase in the number of voluntary police interviews.
There have also been some changes to how those who are considered to be a suspect and who are arrested are now being dealt with. To understand the significance of these changes, it is important to understand how things have worked to date.
What are the three bail options according to UK law?
Formerly, if a suspect was arrested, there were generally three main options as to what may occur after they had been questioned and interviewed by the police:
- The suspect would be charged or cautioned with an offence. If charged, they would be released to attend court at a specified date in the future or remanded in custody until the following court day when they would appear before the court.
- The suspect would be released having been told that the investigation had been concluded and that there would be no further action, thereby meaning that the case had been concluded.
- The suspect would be released on police bail, under what was known as s.47(3)b bail. With or without conditions, the suspect would be required to return to the police station at an appointed date and time. This date could be changed or extended and could mean that the case would drag on for many months and years.
The third option was the most common. This was because most police investigations involve the gathering, processing and consideration of evidence obtained after a suspect has been formally questioned.
To do this, the police would bail the suspect before a decision was made on whether the case would be sent to court or not.
What does ‘released under investigation’ mean?
If you have been released under investigation by the police, it essentially means the investigation is ongoing. You will be notified ‘at some point’ of the outcome of the investigation.
The police now regularly release individuals suspected of committing a criminal offence under investigation – this does not mean they are on police bail. If you are released on bail, the police must provide a specified date and time to return to the police station. This was known as being ‘bailed to return’.
In this instance, the investigation would be progressing. You could expect that a decision would be made by the time you were required to return to the police station.
Those suspected of committing a criminal offence often found themselves on bail for many months and sometimes years. They were repeatedly given bail to return dates with no real evidence that progress in the investigation had been made.
Is there a ‘released under investigation’ time limit?
The Policing and Crime Act 2017 was introduced in April 2017. This Act brought changes to the way the police are required to deal with suspects who have been arrested where there is a need for further investigation.
The Act sets out certain time limits for the police to carry out investigations. As a result of these time limits, the police now often circumvent the legislation, by releasing suspects under investigation rather than releasing them on police bail.
What is the 28-day pre-charge bail limit in the UK?
The change in the law and recent procedure affects the ability of the police to release someone on police bail. There is now a statutory maximum police custody time limit – with the exception of certain cases – of up to 28 days, under the Policing and Crime Act. Unless the bail period has been lawfully extended, it is no longer possible to keep someone on bail after that period has elapsed.
As a result of this new law, in many instances the police are now simply releasing a suspect under investigation within the 28-day limit. The police tell them that they are still under investigation, but not on bail. This means that the suspect does not know if or when the case will be concluded or when their ordeal may be over.
What does it mean to be released without bail?
If an individual is released under these circumstances, they will have been given a notice which tells them information such as:
‘inappropriate contact with anyone linked to your case, either directly or indirectly, through a third party or social media, may constitute a criminal offence’.
The notice will mention serious criminal offences such as witness intimidation. It will also tell the recipient that they could face up to 5 years in prison or may commit the offence of perverting the course of justice, in which case they could face a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
An individual who is released under investigation will not know when the case against them has been concluded. They also won’t know when it is safe to speak with witnesses or people who may be concerned with the case.
Uncertainty without time limits or constraints on police
The government reforms to prevent the torturous waiting under pre-charge bail simply shifted the problem, with suspects now waiting in legal limbo instead. Regardless of whether they are guilty or innocent, being released under investigation is stressful. Many people have to put their life on hold, while receiving no updates from the police.
Indeed, the police may not communicate with a suspect at all. Given that some investigations can go on for months, sometimes longer, this is understandably an unsatisfactory state of affairs for the individual concerned.
It is vitally important that anyone affected by the new bail limit is aware of their rights and the prescribed procedures. This will ensure that effective communication does take place.
This is key to determine:
- Who they can communicate with and who they cannot
- How they know when the case has been concluded
If the individual concerned is not aware of these critical factors, they may unwittingly commit a serious criminal offence.
How we can help
Lawtons has a specialist team of criminal defence solicitors who regularly deal with these types of matters. We are well equipped to make the relevant enquiries on an individual’s behalf and advise on rights and the law.
About the author
Nick Titchener is a director and solicitor advocate of Lawtons and a criminal solicitor with a wealth of experience. Nick is well-known for his astute, methodical and measured approach means he thrives on even the most complex cases, including those involving sexual offences, violence and assault.
Lawtons are a specialist firm of criminal law defence solicitors with branches across London, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and Essex.
What is police bail?
Police bail where a suspect is released without being charged, but must return to the police station at the set time.
Can I go on holiday while on bail?
You will be able to go home until your court hearing. However, there are usually bail conditions such as handing over your passport to the police so you can’t leave the UK.
How many times can you be bailed?
There is no limit to the number of times you can be bailed without charge. The police need to investigate diligently and efficiently and this is difficult with a time limit now fixed to a bail, which is why the police seek other options.
What is the difference between being released on bail and released under investigation?
If you have been released under investigation you are not on bail. As a result, you will not be subject to any bail conditions. However, you are still restricted. Inappropriate contact with witnesses or complainants could constitute criminal offences. Examples include perverting the course of justice or witness intimidation.