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Government to review controversial release under investigation

6 November 2019

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Tens of thousands of suspects are being released under investigation without any time limits or conditions, according to the Law Society, but the government has announced it is to review the rules.

Following an investigation, the Society uncovered evidence showing that RUI is being used for a wide range of crimes including rape and murder.

It also found that the use of RUI has increased dramatically since rule changes on the use of bail were introduced in 2017 under the Policing and Crime Act 2017.

RUI is a controversial arrangement under which a suspect is released while investigations remain ongoing, and the police notifies the suspect at some point in the future of its decision whether or not to bring charges.

However, RUI lacks the checks and balances associated with police bail. 

Law Society president Simon Davis warned: “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 Society called for improvements to the practice of RUI, such as the introduction of time limits on its use, a central register and ensuring RUI is not to be used for individuals who could put the public at risk.

For example, in one case a solicitor had a client released under investigation for two separate knife crime murders, and had also been released under investigation for two separate knife robbery offences.

While being subject to RUI, he was also charged with a separate grievous bodily harm offence involving a knife and has undergone a Crown Court trial.

Davis welcomed the announcement of a government review, but warned that more efficient investigations must be supported with “balanced investment in the wider criminal justice system”.

He said that in the interests of transparency, there should be a centrally-held register of numbers of people released under investigation, broken down by police authority area and offence.

“Current data collection is inconsistent at best”, he said.

He also said “greater efficiency at the investigative stage is needed” – but without wider investment there is the risk of a “bottleneck effect”.

He warned: “Rather than reducing crime, more could fall through the cracks of investigation and prosecution.”

Caroline Goodwin, chair of the Criminal Bar Association, expressed concern that RUI is regularly being used for reported serious crimes - with suspects being released without any of the restrictions that apply to bail.

In her latest update for the CBA website, she said: “Released under investigation is a means of avoiding charging people at the appropriate moment.

“It avoids judicial control, previously managed by the Bail Act and has become a charter for delay.

“It is being abused and is being applied in simple cases, not just those of complexity requiring more time.”

Government said it will review the legislation to ensure the safety of victims is prioritised and the police supported in investigating all offences.

It also committed to ensuring RUI will be used where most appropriate and where conditions are needed to protect victims and witnesses, such as in domestic abuse cases.

Home Secretary Priti Patel said the review will ensure government puts victims’ needs first.

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Ethics, professionalism and judgement Crime Procedures