Analysis

Released under investigation: The real reason why fewer people are being charged with offences

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Criminal barrister Rhys Rosser explains how RUIs have had some very unintended consequences

New rules governing bail introduced in 2017 have led to many suspects being left in limbo for long periods of time, unsure of their status. Even more unintended is that the new rules have resulted in fewer individuals being charged: courts having fewer cases to deal with and fewer defendants are convicted (or acquitted).

If you had been arrested before April 2017, you would have been bailed from the police station to return and you would probably have been given what was called a ‘Bail to Return Date’. This meant that the police had to regularly monitor suspects and would more regularly charge suspects with the offence for which they had originally been arrested.

However, as a result of the Policing and Crime Act 2017, a 28-day time limit was placed on the length of time a suspect could be on bail for. This was widely welcomed by the profession at the time as it was hoped that it would lead to a significant reduction in the uncertainty of people waiting to be charged. The police would either have to charge the suspect within 28 days, seek an extension or ‘release under investigation’ or ‘RUI’.

But the 28-day limit is tricky for the police: it is not necessarily simple to charge someone, there may be further investigations that need to be made. There has also been the introduction of postal requisitions, this means that rather than being charged at a police station, suspects are written to with the information of their charge. (This amounts to the ‘laying of an information’ and so they are duly expected to attend court.)

There are now fairly few examples of people being on bail for 28 days and subsequently charged. The police do not want to waste time and resources seeking extensions to bail periods — they simply don’t tend to bail suspects anymore.

What the police now do is release suspects under investigation and the cases are periodically reviewed. But this can go on for a long time; suspects lose contact with their solicitors, they move to a new house or, worse, they become homeless. This in turn means a substantial percentage of people don’t receive their requisitions and so don’t attend, police then have to get warrants issued for their attendance to be secured, leaving the police with even fewer resources.

As a result of the introduction of RUIs, there are serious injustices taking place. Here’s one example. I recently dealt with a case where a 17-year-old had been arrested, interviewed and released under investigation. That took place in May 2017 and was for Class A drug offences. In March 2018 he pleaded guilty to an identical offence and received a substantial custodial sentence. He remained under investigation for the first offence.

It wasn’t until January 2019 that he actually received a postal requisition to attend the magistrates court. He had no defence and so had to plead guilty. He had by then turned 18 so couldn’t receive a youth sentence, he had also served another sentence for the same offence. Under the concept of ‘totality in sentencing’, had his two offences been dealt with at the same time he could have potentially received a lesser sentence. The use of RUI precluded that possibility.

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Responses to a recent survey of firms conducted by the London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association indicate that more than half of firms represent clients/suspects who have been waiting for between 18 months and two years under RUIs. That is a real indication of the problems caused by the police’s ability to release under investigation and an unforeseen consequence of the bail time limit.

Released under investigation has become the new unconditional bail, but without the important police contact. Suspects are left in limbo; victims are left unsure of what to expect and the system grinds to a halt. The introduction of RUI is one of the driving forces behind the reduction in courts sitting, there are simply less people being charged with offences. In the 12 months to March 2018, 443,000 crimes resulted in a charge or summons out of 4.6 million offences, that is the lowest detection rate since 2015.

Though the figures do not cover the last 12 months, they make interesting reading (Metropolitan Police figures). They clearly show that since the introduction of the time limit, there has been a substantial reduction in the number of suspects who are bailed to the police station and a substantial increase in those released under investigation.

One could consider the figures from 2017 to be an anomaly, simply because RUIs were used for those cases which would expect further investigations to take place (and so outside of the normal bail periods). However, it does show that the 2017 Act had the effect it intended, namely reducing the average period of time on bail. The figures below demonstrate an increase from February 2018 to April 2018 in the length of time suspects are spending released under investigation: much, much longer. The statistics tell the story that those within the profession are well aware of.

As of 31 July 2018, there were a total of 37,888 people who were released under investigation at the time. These suspects had been, on average, under investigation for a total of 225 days. No wonder the courts are so quiet; it’s not an accurate reflection of a reduction in crime as the politicians would have us believe.

So what’s the solution? The short answer is that there isn’t one. I wish there were. Our criminal justice system is devoid of funding in all areas, be it the police, the courts, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) or defence solicitors. Unless something is done to increase the efficiency of investigations and charging decisions, the situation will continue to get worse and even fewer cases will be brought before the courts.

Rhys Rosser is a junior tenant at 2 Bedford Row practising in criminal and regulatory law.

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39 Comments

Anonymous

Good article – more of this and less diversity/harassment guff please.

(30)(2)

Granny Grammar

Excellent article, however “there are simply less people being charged with offences” should read “there are simply fewer people being charged with offences.”

(14)(3)

Anonymous

I do not think it is possible for phrases to read themselves. Unless, words have now gained sentence, which they have not.

Please grab a napkin on the way out.

(3)(10)

Anonymous

But what if I want to know what Charlotte Proudman thinks about the number of female district judges in the South West? WHERE WILL I GO TO IF NOT TO LEGAL CHEEK!?

(6)(0)

Anonymous

Criminal justice in the UK is a mess.
Harsher penalties and better prosecutors pls thank you

(9)(20)

Anonymous

Then don’t vote for parties which cut the justice budget in half.

What did anyone expect? 20,000 less police officers means they detect fewer crimes and arrest less people.

(16)(1)

Anonymous

I’d actually decriminalise a lot of offences and reduce sentences. We’re too quick to criminalise people in this country. Apart from anything else, we simply can’t afford it.

(19)(5)

Trumpenkrieg

Start with hate speech.

(2)(1)

Anonymous

“As a result of the introduction of RUIs, there are serious injustices taking place. Here’s one example. I recently dealt with a case where a 17-year-old had been arrested, interviewed and released under investigation. That took place in May 2017 and was for Class A drug offences. In March 2018 he pleaded guilty to an identical offence and received a substantial custodial sentence. He remained under investigation for the first offence.”

Hmm, I accept serious injustices may be taking place, but I’m not convinced this is one of them.

Firstly, I infer that the second offence (the one for which he pleaded guilty in March 2018) occurred after he was arrested for the first offence in May 2017.

If so, no sympathy.

In any event, I infer from the fact he received a ‘substantial’ prison sentence that some element of supply was probably involved.

If so, absolutely no sympathy whatsoever.

Possession for recreational use is one thing. Supply is quite another. Drug dealers prop up a very dangerous and nasty industry built on fear, intimidation, which mercilessly destroys lives in pursuit of maximum profit. Anyone who willingly participates in this industry runs the risk that the procedure might work against him while his conduct is thoroughly investigated. Long may he rot in prison, where he belongs.

(21)(6)

Anonymous

I don’t think you are being asked to have symphathy.

The point being made is why the massive delay?

I’ve found that RUI is being used even when people have admitted the offence in interview. What is there to investigate? The delay is not usually for the police to investigate. It’s that with the CPS losing about 40% of their people, there is a massive backlog in getting charge approval.

(7)(2)

Criminal Barrister

The public don’t “get” or approve of the following:

– Concurrent sentences.

– The “Totality” principle.

– Automatic release on licence at the halfway point.

– “Life sentences” from which parole is possible in all but a few rare cases.

(9)(0)

Anonymous

What we don’t get is why sentences are so soft and the state cares more about rehabilitating criminals than locking them away for the protection of the good honest people. Too many do gooder lefties in the whole scheme.

(2)(6)

Anonymous

They are not. The UK has the highest prision population in Europe. Too many ignorant Tory voters who think they can vote to reduce spending on justice by 50%, spend the money instead to fund a tax cut on 1p of a pint of beer and it won’t make any difference. Didn’t you bother to read the 2010 Conservative manifesto? Their 2017 manifesto promised another 30% cut to justice? You have the justice system that you voted for.

(7)(0)

Anonymous

But our prisons are the problem. If we locked them up in solitary for their sentences then the whole University of Crime problem would go away. No visits, no phones, no socialising, just four walls and maybe books, radios or limited TV access. Would deal with a lot of the drug problem. Make them non-people in a battery farm of minimum provision. Instead these Tories are talking about letting prisoners have mobiles etc. When we see criminals as scum to be locked away than than lost souls to be saved, that will be a good day.

(0)(6)

Anonymous

We actually they are talking about abolishing prision sentences under 6 months completley. How else do you reduce the justice budget by another 30%? People do not like being in prision. If you’ve ever been in one, you’d understand why. Nobody would comit a crime if they thought they would get caught. Getting caught is the deterant. Do you drive over the speed limit when there is a cop car behind you even though you’d be let off with a fine? But when there is no cop car there, how careful are you with your speed?

Justice was 1% of public spending in 2010. No other department has had its budget cut by 50%. The NHS and Education are all Prince Diana and exempt from cuts. Justice doesn’t matter. Boris will give you another £3 a year tax cut and will get justice spending down to 0.2% of public spending by 2021. Just like May promised when the public voted her in.

Anonymous

Never gonna happen, and shouldn’t in any case. I doubt there’s anyone in the country who has never committed a crime or knows someone who has.

Anonymous

8.28 is a leftie apologist. Sees speeders or those that like the odd toot as the same as muggers and thieves.

Anonymous

Missing the point. 6.27pm advocates locking up all criminals, including speeders and horn tooters up in solitary. You sound as if you believe in harsh sentences for crime unless its a crime committed by you.

Anonymous

I don’t see what was wrong with the old system. Just because criminal low lives were a tad miffed they did not know if they were going to be charged for their crimes does not seem a good enough reason.

(2)(4)

Anonymous

Well for a start, if the police faff around for 2 to 3 years before charging someone, they may well commit a load more offences in that peroid (which also get RUIed for a couple of years). This is a good thing because?

(6)(0)

Anonymous

Well that is a different point though. If there was less bail at all then that would be a good start. Criminal trials are far too long. If they halved their length, which could be easy if we did not pander to outdated Rolls Royce concepts, then everything would move far more smoothly to jailing them properly.

(1)(0)

Anonymous

You know nothing about it. Trials are not long. There is a massive delay in getting cases to trial because the M o J will not pay for Recorders to sit and so every day half the Court room are empty. If the police charged everyone right away every case would be dismissed. Might be an idea for example to prove that the white powder you found is actually drugs. Wait 2 months for the lab to come back with the results as their budget has been cut in half. Want to prove it was actually the person you arrested who comitted the offence. Wait 3 months for the DNA test results to come back as their is a massive backlog.

The justice budget (not just legal aid) but the whole thing, has been cut in half since 2010. That is why there are fewer police officers, CPS lawyers, duty solicitors, courts still open and judges to hear cases.

(4)(0)

Anonymous

No, I do know plenty about it. Trials can take 6 weeks when they could be done in 2 or 3. Shorter trials means less costs, more capacity and less delay. Most of the costs are driven by utterly outdated criminal friendly procedures that would be better swept away.

Crim Hack

Yes!!! Let’s streamline!d Let’s have everything tried by magistrates. They’re great. They approach things fairly. They never ever ever fail to understand the law or wilfully misapply legal principles.

In fact, why not cut out the whole trial process? Let’s have a conclusive presumption of guilt that cannot be rebutted from the point of charge onwards.

Etc.

(5)(0)

Anonymous

Already done that. 98% of cases are tried by Magistrates, with an average trial length of 2 hours. Trouble is as they’ve closed most of the Magistrates Courts every trial list has 6 summary trials listed in it with court time to hear 3 of them.

But you still get memebers of the public posting on LC telling us trials last 6 weeks. Yeah right.

Anonymous

Most of the CPS jockeys are sh1te anyway and the police are getting more aggressive and less insightful.

(2)(0)

Anonymous

“No, I do know plenty about it. Trials can take 6 weeks when they could be done in 2 or 3. Shorter trials means less costs, more capacity and less delay. Most of the costs are driven by utterly outdated criminal friendly procedures that would be better swept away.”

Go on then I’ll bite. If you worked in the Criminal Justice system you’d know that the problems are that if you cut the number of police officers, CPS lawyers courts and judges by half, the system isn’t going to work too well or at least not very quickly.

96% of trials are 5 days or less. Can you tell us which of the criminal friendly proceedures we have mean that the first available listing at Isleworth Crown Court for a 2 day Section 18 trial (is that short enough for you for an allegation carrying 15 years if convicted?) is 25th November 2019. Defendant arrested September 2018.

(2)(0)

Anonymous

Ditch evidence in chief for written statements, require defendants to give oral testimony in cross and provide witness statements in advance, allow priors in evidence, let juries assess the value of hearsay evidence, simplify burden of proof to much more likely than not, require defence counsel to set out all challenges to evidence in advance so that pointless attendances and witnesses do not need to attend…

(0)(2)

Anonymous

Hearsay has been admissible since 2003. Previous convictions have been admissible since 2003. The Defence are required to set out all challenges in advance in writing on the PTPH form and justify why the witness is required. The Defence have been required to set out their defence in a Defence Case Statement since 1996. Defendants do give oral testimony in cross.

Before posting, did it occour to you to find something out about the subject?

(2)(0)

Crim Hack

“Priors”

Says it all.

(4)(0)

Anonymous

In some cases the balance has swung so much against the Defence it surprising the trial hasn’t been done away with altogether.

(1)(0)

Anonymous

Check it out:-

https://www.courtserve.net/courtlists/viewcourtlist2014.php?courtlist=islew_T190628.01.htm&type=crlists

Court 1 – Closed.
Court 2 – Closed.
Court 3 – Closed.
Court 4 – Sitting – 1 4 hour trial and 2 sentences listed.
Court 5 – Closed.
Court 6 – 1 3 hour trial listed.
Court 7 – 1 three day trial listed.
Court 8 – PTPH List.
Court 9 – PTPH List.
Court 10 – Closed.
Court 11 – 1 half day trial listed.
Court 12 – Closed.

Yep. It’s definatley all those 6 week trials in the list that’s holding things up. Nothing to do with the fact half the Courts are closed as the M o J doesn’t want to pay for Judges to sit.

(5)(1)

Ani

Enough resources given the massively reduction in heavy hearings over the last 15 years. It is the self indulgence of defence lawyers trying to find meritless hooks to get criminals off that is the biggest cost problem.

(0)(4)

Anonymous

I agree that defence lawyers should not try to get their clients acquitted. It really is very self-indulgent.

(3)(0)

Anonymous

“8.28 is a leftie apologist. Sees speeders or those that like the odd toot as the same as muggers and thieves.”

No. 9.12 is a righty apologist. It was a right wing govenment that took 20,000 police officers off our streets but still thinks muggers and thieves will be detered from committing offences even when there are no police on the street to stop them.

Sorry you couldn’t grasp the simple analogy. If you removed every speed camera and every police patrol car from our roads so that the chance of being caught speeding was nill. Then, guess what? More people would speed as there would be no chance of being caught. If you remove all the police from our streets so there is no chance of people being caught comitting street crime being caught. Then, guess what? More people commit street crimes. Thanks to your righty govenment there are no police officers on patrol to either deter them or arrest them.

(1)(0)

Anonymous

So why has the crime rate fallen so much over the last decade?

(2)(0)

Anonymous

It hasn’t. Knife crime and violent crime have all gone up. But if you’d read the article you would have seen that the number of people being charged has halved. Could that have something to do with there being less police officers?

(0)(2)

Anonymous

Or could it be to do with the police having to spend an inordinate amount of time on non-criminal matters – ‘harassment’, people arguing on Twitter, that sort of thing.

(0)(0)

Anonymous

I concur. I’ve just spent the best part of 6 months trying to get my local Police service to take action regarding my former husband’s stalking offences.

I’m a “vulnerable adult” with a “vulnerable child.”

I finally became so frustrated by the lack of action, that I complained to the OIPC.

I finally had a reply in response to my complaint with my local Police service, essentially admitting liability under 2 headings.

I have persuaded one of their female officers, to forward my complaint on to their civilian complaints department.

I’ve outlined my argument, so they will have all the evidence that I have.

Getting to that stage was exhausting.

I’m now expecting to hear more blah, blah, blah from their lawyer.

I am nothing if not tenacious.

I may receive compensation for the additional aggravation that my local Police service has inflicted on me.

All they had to do was record the matter correctly and wait patiently while I collected the information that I was asked to find.

A sorrowful tale, but one with an ironic twist in the tale.

My former husband has enough assets to allow him to travel around Europe, trailing our son.

My local Police service is enduring man power cuts too. Therefore, I agree with the original poster. We have more low level crime. Noticeable by the person targeted, but just slipping under the threshold of the CPS’s current guidelines.

I for one, put my research skills to good use.

It took me a few weeks, but I got there. I found that remaining focused on my goal, which has always been to have an ordinary maternal relationship with our son, assisted me to get this far.

(1)(1)

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