Police investigations — the uncertainty of RUI
We explain the use of 'released under investigation' by police forces as an alternative to bail conditions and the uncertainty that it can create.
In the last few years Police investigations of media personalities have highlighted concerns over long periods for which suspects remained on Police bail; often restricting their movements and requiring attendance at the Police station regularly to ensure compliance with the terms of their bail. Since April 2017, the Policing and Crime Act introduced a new 28 day time limit for police bail, after which authority for an extension had to be sought from senior police officers and/or Magistrate. Within the legal profession, it was hoped that this would ensure that police investigations were undertaken promptly and efficiently, with a view to charging decisions being taken within that period, or as soon as possible thereafter.
An alternative, increasingly used by Police, is that a suspect can be released under investigation (‘RUI’), following the initial 28 day bail period. While this means there are no conditions imposed upon the suspect, it also significantly weakens the investigating officer’s accountability as they are freed from the requirement to seek bail extensions.
Figures obtained by the Law Society recently demonstrated that there have been huge increases in the number of suspects being “RUIed” in England and Wales. Reporting on their findings the Law Society has called for time limits to be imposed on RUIs and for there to be a central register of these figures, so as to fully understand the impact these changes to the Criminal Justice System are having. The Home Office has very recently agreed to review the process.
We act on behalf of a number of professionals who have been, or remain RUIed. The uncertainty over the progression of their case causes them considerable anxiety. The Police are generally unwilling to take any action in response to representations from us about the speed of their investigation, simply pleading lack of resources or issues with third parties to justify their lack of progress.
Where those RUIed are registrants of professional regulators, it is almost always the case that the regulator will not undertake any significant investigation into the underlying allegations until the police have concluded their own investigation. In relation to sexual offences alleged against healthcare professionals, this will almost always mean that there is are interim restrictions placed on their practice, or they are suspended from practice altogether in some circumstances. Our experience is that the police are very often reluctant to provide any significant information to the regulator about the progress of the investigation, let alone the suspect or their legal representatives.
The impact upon suspects is considerable and we presently act for healthcare professionals who have been RUIed for approximately 2 years, unable to secure any significant work within that time frame and who remain unsure as to when a charging decision may be available. In the meantime, they have been the subject of restrictions on their practice and with the further anxiety of likely subsequent investigations by their professional regulators, meaning that the whole process could last up to four years, even when the allegations relate to only one or two alleged offences.
Whilst the introduction of the RUI Scheme in 2017 was well-intentioned, unfortunately, it appears to us that the net effect has been that police forces are willing to forego the potential safeguards of bail conditions to relieve themselves of the burden of regular scrutiny of their investigations.
This is clearly unsatisfactory and we welcome the Law Society highlighting these concerns. The Home Office should conclude that the present system is ineffective and unfair, and ensure that there is external scrutiny of police investigations, including the ability for the suspect and their representative to make representations that will be acted upon.
For further guidance, contact our emergency services solicitors.