Release under investigation is failing victims of domestic and sexual violence
The Home Office review into pre-charge bail must understand why release under investigation (RUI) has rocketed and recognise the damage it has done to so many victims, writes Bambos Charalambous MP.
As the Government tries to hit the emergency button to prevent any more convicted terrorists from being released on to our streets, there are thousands of suspected violent criminals being released while the police investigate. Today I will be leading a debate in Parliament on ‘Release Under Investigation’.
(RUI) came in under the Policing and Crime Act in April 2017. It’s one of four options for the police when releasing an arrested suspect from their custody.
It’s not bail – there’s no time limit and no return date for police to work towards. It was designed that way, as an alternative to bail and in response to complaints about Operation Yewtree. The well-known police investigation into sexual abuse allegations was criticised when some suspects were left on bail for long periods of time before being told they would not face charges.
Remaining on bail for long periods of time caused concern about possible infringements on suspects’ liberty and hindering long-term plans.
The soaring use of RUI is now replacing the use of bail and risks releasing people who are a danger to the public with no conditions on where they go, who they contact and when they must report back to the police. In London, the number released on bail between 2016 and 2017 was 67,838. This fell to 988 from 2017 to 2018 and in the same period the number of RUI cases was 46,674, (according to data collated by the law firm Hickman & Rose).
Investigations can take months or years because of depleted police resources. In this time, anxiety is exacerbated for victims, for those wrongly accused and criminal legal aid is coming under strain.
In an attempt to reduce the use of RUI, the National Police Chiefs’ Council issued guidance to frontline officers stressing the importance of using pre-charge bail in high harm cases. In further recognition of the problem, Priti Patel’s Home Office has announced a review into pre-charge bail, but is this too little too late?
The balance of natural justice must be fair so we do not punish innocent suspects. However, when the somewhat patchy data, from only 20 of the 44 police forces in England and Wales, shows that between April 2017 and October 2019, 93,098 of the 322,250 RUI cases were people accused of committing a violent or sexual offence, alarm bells start to ring.
The Centre for Women’s Justice’s super-complaint detailed case studies of victims of domestic violence and rape. A woman in Yorkshire had reported her ex-husband for repeatedly raping her during their 13-year marriage and had been released by the police after interview with no conditions. He then forced his way into her home at 2am and held her hostage for 5 hours, cut her with broken glass and tied her to a table. Victims of domestic and sexual violence are at the greatest risk of reprisals.
Even this one case study is enough to convince me that RUI fails victims. Let alone countless other horrific incidents and the wrongly accused suspects who are left in limbo.
Right now, the Government is showing its willingness to rush legislation through Parliament when it wants to. This is a critical time to make sure the Home Office review gives proper commitment and clarity to understanding why the use of RUI has rocketed and to properly assess and recognise the damage its use has done. Legislation needs to be updated for pre-charge bail and RUI – potentially dangerous suspects should not be allowed unlimited freedom to further abuse and violate their victims.
Bambous Charalambous is the Labour Member of Parliament for Enfield Southgate.