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.

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 from budget cuts. With this in mind, there has been an increase in voluntary police interviews.

However, there have also been some considerable changes to how even those suspects who have been arrested are now being dealt with. To understand the significance of these changes, it is important to firstly 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:

  1. The suspect would be charged or cautioned with an offence. If they were charged, they would be either released to attend court at a specified date in the future or remanded in custody overnight until the following court day when they would appear before the court
  2. 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
  3. The suspect would be released on police bail, under what was known as s.47(3)b bail. This would mean that 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 case would drag on for many months and in some cases, for years

The third option was the most common, simply because the nature of most police investigations involves the gathering, processing and considering 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 on not.

What does released under investigation mean?

If you have been released under investigation by the police, it essentially means the investigation is ongoing and that 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, which 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 and 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, being given repeated 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, which came into force in April 2017. This Act brought changes to the way the police were required to deal with suspects who have been arrested where there is a need further investigation.

The Act sets out certain time limits for the police to carry out investigations, and it is as a result of these time limits that 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, telling them that they 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 and it will tell the recipient that they could face up to 5 years in prison or alternatively 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, nor will they know when it is safe to speak with witnesses or people who may be concerned with the case.

Whilst they are under investigation, they will also not receive regular 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, in order to ensure that effective communication does take place. This is key to determine:

  1. Who they can communicate with and who they cannot
  2. 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.

With a specialist team of criminal defence solicitors who regularly deal with these types of matters, Lawtons 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, director and solicitor advocate of Lawtons, is a dedicated criminal solicitor with considerable experience in legal cases including sexual offences, violence and assault. Nick’s measured and methodical approach means he thrives on even the most complex case.

Nick also oversees the overall management of Lawtons Solicitors, a specialist firm of criminal law defence solicitors with branches across London, Hertfordshire, Bedfordshire and Essex.