Changes to Bail and Release Under Investigation Rules

Author: Andrew Costello

The government is set to introduce radical changes to bail conditions for crime suspects in England and Wales.

Proposals set out by the Home Secretary, Priti Patel will see bail terms being increased from the current 28 days to as much as 90 days, with police being instructed to impose bail if suspects are thought to be a risk to victims or witnesses and the general public.

It’s believed that within the proposals, which have been outlined in a public consultation, police powers of `Release Under Investigation’ will be strengthened against suspects who aren’t bailed by having their case reviewed.

The consultation hopes to garner opinion on:

  • Extending the time limit for bail from 28 days to either 60 or 90 days
  • Instructing police officers to use bail when there’s a risk to victims, witnesses and the public
  • Ensuring cases where suspects are released under investigation or interviewed voluntarily are reviewed

The latest plans fly in the face of changes introduced by Teresa May’s government in 2017, following concerns that suspects were under bail conditions for too long. In response, the then Tory government restricted the time spent on bail to 28 days and introduced Release Under Investigation (RUI) measures.

RUI allows suspects to leave custody without any restrictions while inquiries continue. This arrangement has no time limit, but doesn’t require suspects to comply with bail conditions, such as including living at a certain address, not contacting particular people or having to regularly visit a police station.

The U-turn on the 28 day bail limit has been triggered as a consequence of the number of people being released back in to the community under the RUI process. According to BBC Newsnight, between April 2017 and October 2019, there were 322,250 cases involving suspects being released under investigation. Of these, almost 100,000 involved suspected violent crimes and sex offences.

The government’s plans, however, have been met with apprehension by many. Andrew Costello, partner in Russell & Russell’s crime department, says: “The consultation needs to understand the volume and gravity of cases law firms have gathering dust in their filing cabinets.

“The proposed legislation is attempting to retrofit the problem. Bail conditions and increasing the number of individuals ‘overseeing’ bail has no impact whatsoever if fundamental changes aren’t made at the beginning of the investigative process. There, as promised, needs to be more police officers to secure arrest in the first place and a greater emphasis placed on funding, training and experience to effectively investigate crimes and put cases together properly.  The courts are full of cases that are getting on for nearly two years old.  The consultation proposals will not change a thing unless they’re introduced in tandem with other drastically needed proposals.”

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