The Law Society of England and Wales has welcomed the announcement that the controversial practice of releasing suspects under investigation (RUI) is to be reviewed.
The Society has been campaigning for a rethink on the policy and undertook a high-profile investigation which revealed that tens of thousands of suspects are being released under investigation – an open-ended arrangement which lacks the conditions, balances and checks afforded by bail.
Law Society president Simon Davis commented:
“Our evidence showed how RUI is being used for a wide range of crimes including indictable offences such as rape and murder,” .
“There are concerns that alleged victims and witnesses to crimes are at risk as suspects are not made subject to bail conditions.
“Under RUI, innocent suspects can be left in limbo for months or even years and victims can face an open-ended wait for justice.
“The Law Society has been calling for time limits on the period of time people are left facing criminal investigation so they are dealt with on a reasonable timeframe with consideration for the safety of the public.
The Law Society published a policy briefing “Release under investigation” in September 2019. In the briefing, it highlighted that RUI was being used by many police forces as an alternative to bail with “tens of thousands of individuals being investigated for a crime but under no conditions and with no time limits” and had uncovered examples where the police were not putting people on bail even in cases where the defendant could be a risk to the public.
The review concluded with the following recommendations:
- Ensure release under investigation is used appropriately: The police need to ensure decisions around whether to place someone under bail or RUI are necessary and proportionate – as they are required to do under the PACE Codes of Practice. This means that those who are of a potential risk to the complainant or to the public in general should not be placed under RUI.
- Time limits on release under investigation: Strict time limits must be introduced to RUI, with senior approval required to extend those time limits, mirroring the bail requirements. However, we acknowledge that the police, like the defence and prosecution, are under resource pressure, so we understand the need for a mechanism which is less restrictive than bail in terms of time limits and extension approvals. We would therefore suggest an approximate first period of around 56 days authorised by a sergeant, with approval needed from a Chief Inspector or Superintendent for an extension to 6 months. For an extension of up 12 months, approval from a magistrate would be needed.
- Better ways to update the accused: A single “postal requisition” letter to the accused’s address original is not acceptable, especially given the long times people are released under investigation and the likelihood of people moving in this time. Police forces should use additional methods to contact the accused, such as email and/or a text message in case the individual has moved or is away from home.
- Better data collection: There should be a a central register of the numbers of people released under investigation, broken down by police authority area, by the crime the individual has been accused of, and the date of when the individual is placed under RUI. This will help the Government monitor numbers and determine whether it is being used appropriately.
- Fairer remuneration for defence solicitors: The Law Society has long been calling for an increase in legal aid rates paid to criminal defence practitioners. The increased volume of work caused by the increasingly widespread use of RUI is yet another reason to increase the rates paid in order to fairly remunerate the profession.