Senior lawyers have warned that a major scandal is brewing after it emerged that thousands of suspected violent criminals and sex offenders have been released under investigation.
An investigation by Newsnight showed that 93,000 suspected violent criminals and sex offenders have been released under investigation following law changes in 2017.
A Law Society review published earlier this year also revealed that suspects and victims are in some cases waiting years for justice.
Richard Miller, head of justice at the Law Society of England and Wales, said a “major scandal” was brewing. “A record number of suspects are being released under investigation without conditions or time limits.
“RUI is currently being used for the full range of crimes including murder and rape without any risk assessment," he added.
Released under investigation means that the police investigation is still ongoing and the suspect will be informed of any decision made at some point in the future. Before April 2017, suspects would usually be released on police bail and given a time to return to the police station and there would usually be conditions attached. The majority of suspects are now released under investigation following changes to the law in April 2017.
However, due to resource pressures, police authorities often struggle to investigate cases expeditiously meaning that they are often unable to meet the 28-day limit on pre-charge bail. The use of RUI has skyrocketed as a result.
Richard Miller urged the use of RUI to be used appropriately in the interests of public safety and justice for the suspect. Police forces should consistently assess risk, he added.
“There also must be limits on the period of time people are left facing criminal investigation. Suspects can be left under the cloud of suspicion for years, and victims of serious offences, such as rape or violent crimes, are denied closure and may live in fear of being confronted by the accused.
“This can have life-changing consequences, particularly for cases involving young people. We are losing opportunities to turn young offenders away from crime and are failing young victims.
“The Home Office must introduce a centrally-held register collating the numbers of people released under investigation, broken down by police authority area and offence. Police authorities must be able to provide updates on the status of an investigation.
“We must aspire to deliver swift justice, which is impossible on the cheap. Without wider investment, we risk a bottleneck effect. As a result, more crime could fall through the cracks of investigation and prosecution," he concluded.