End the uncertainty caused by long police investigations
13 June 2019
Leaving suspects in the dark for years can destroy lives – our justice system must unite for change.
Waiting for results is stressful, whether it be for medical tests or exams, indeed anything that will have an impact on one’s life and future.
Imagine a serious sexual allegation is made against you – perhaps by a former partner or family member. You are interviewed by police and strenuously deny the allegation. You are told that there will be an investigation. You will be notified “in due course” of the outcome. Weeks, then months roll by. Sometimes years. You remain in limbo. The strain is unbearable, affecting not only you but all those close to you. It is a living hell.
As a defence solicitor who represents people under investigation for rape and other sexual offences, I see this scenario played out week in, week out. Judging by a survey published this week by the London Criminal Courts Solicitors’ Association, my colleagues all over England and Wales see the same in justice.
Over the past three months more than 6,500 new cases have been put into a legal no-man’s land after interview or arrest and before charge – no conditions, no supervision imposed on the suspect, no time limit.
Suspects and lawyers are all too often kept in the dark about the progress of the case. Irrespective of the alleged crime – varying from complex sexual offence allegations, drugs, fraud to serious assault – suspects and cases languish in legal limbo. More than half the lawyers report cases under police investigation that have already lasted between 18 months and two years.
Two years of a suspect with their life on hold, two years of a complainants or victim with no closure or protection, two years of society unprotected by safeguards.
The mess we are in lies in part in a well-intentioned law change. After a campaign started by the broadcaster Paul Gambaccini and others, the Policing and Crime Act 2017 limited to 28 days the length of time a suspect could remain on pre-charge bail on conditions – extendable in exceptional circumstances. At the time, defence lawyers thought that was a great advance. But was it?
Rather than fixing the legal no-man’s land, the recent legislation backfired. Hard-pressed police – often overwhelmed by data overload from phones and devices – came up with a practice of releasing suspects “under investigation” indefinitely, as much as two years and counting for some. As these people are innocent until proven guilty, the revised practice misses the point of the law change. Imagine if we told this summer’s GCSE and A-level students to wait two years for the results. There would be a public outcry.
The time has come for a review of the whole police investigation process. Across the justice system, the police, Crown Prosecution Service and those who work in our courts should unite for change.
Claire Anderson is a solicitor at ABV Solicitors in London and is a member of the committee for the London Criminal Court Solicitors’ Association.
This Article was published in The Times, see the link here: The Times