Suspects need ‘closure’ just as much as victims and witnesses

For who would bear the whips and scorns of time,

Th’oppressor’s wrong, the proud man’s contumely,

The pangs of despised love, the law’s delay,

The insolence of office, and the spurns

That patient merit of th’ unworthy takes …

Hamlet, Act 3; Scene 1

 

This rant is aimed at those police officers who think it is acceptable to keep someone in custody, on bail, or in a state of concern and worry, while they go about their investigations at a leisurely pace and with no sense of urgency.

The PACE Code of Practice now permit the police to hold a suspect in custody or under investigation for (almost) as long as it takes for reports to be written, submitted to the CPS and then charging decisions made. Of course, there are three scenarios.

First, the suspect in custody who may have to wait hours, deprived of liberty, for the processes to be completed. If the CPS asks for more information or evidence, the police can bail a suspect or hold them while the investigation continues. Trying to make representations against a decision to hold a suspect pending a CPS decision is extremely difficult, if not almost impossible. The police response to defence lawyers’ representations about custody time limit extensions is almost always: “It’s down to the CPS and you (and your client) must wait for them.”

Second, the police can bail out a suspect to a new date for CPS advice or a charging decision. The suspect would be either on conditional or unconditional bail. If on conditional bail, this can seriously interfere with family and other commitments.

Third, the police can interview a suspect as a volunteer, not under arrest but under caution, and then release the suspect pending charging or other decisions. This can take a phenomenal amount of time and causes worry to suspects who feel that they cannot get on with their normal life while their future hangs in the balance. We have seen this with the Cliff Richard arrest, the long delays involving other public figures, and in cases of historic sexual abuse cases. While the police have the right and duty to investigate, they really must do so expeditiously and not place, as I fear sometimes occurs, cases at the back of the queue because there is no judicial or legal pressure to expedite matters.

While suspects are on bail, there are no constraints to stop police from re-bailing suspects for months if not years. It is not possible, as the law now stands, to force a decision from the police or CPS. Hopefully this will change so that suspects, those accused of offences, can have the closure which witnesses and complainants/victims seek and are given from the criminal justice system. I would suggest a maximum of three months, after which the police must apply to a court for an order to extend the bail – giving good reasons in writing, which can be challenged by a defence advocate. This idea has been considered by Theresa May when she was home secretary, and I would hope that our politicians can see the justice of this suggestion.

The CPS is, of course, is under pressure and massively under-resourced; delays before charging decisions are becoming more frequent, especially outside the normal office hours. Yet the police had sufficient evidence to arrest and interview, so that the charging or other decision should not necessarily be that difficult. After all, charges can always be amended after a reviewing lawyer has examined the case properly, rather than late at night or in the early hours of the morning.

Examples?

  • A client, arrested for serious sexual offences, who had to wait six hours in custody while various CPS lawyers claimed to be at the end of their work shift and passed the case on to a colleague. It was only after I threatened to refer a lawyer to their professional body that a decision was made to charge the client.
  • A client who has been interviewed many months ago as a volunteer and who is still waiting for decisions about his future. Despite my calls to the investigating officer, no decision has been made for more than six months and the client is now seeking psychiatric assistance due to anxiety.
  • Two clients arrested for murder who remained on bail for nearly two years, until other proceedings had finished.
  • Numerous clients who are uncharged, awaiting CPS charging advice where inspectors and superintendents will give full extensions for the decisions, even when a shortened time would result in the mind of the charging lawyer being more focussed. After all, I feel sure that any lawyer or police officer in custody would expect expedition so that release and so on would be finalised.

Yes, even with electronic communications, suspects still have to bear the law’s delay.

 

 

 

About Julian Young

Julian is a criminal defence solicitor and high court advocate

There are 11 comments

  1. Thank you for highlighting the forgotten people in any case. There are numerous bodies available to look after the rights of the victims but the accused are often victims too.
    I myself was questioned and released on conditional bail WITHOUT CHARGE, leading to the break-up of my family. My case has now being referred to CPS after 8 months and 6 bailbacks. The new guidelines do not apply to me as I was arrested prior to them becoming law which is another ludicrous situation that needs addressing.

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  2. Absolutely, a friend of mine has not been able to see her daughter simply because she grabbed her to stop her running off. the school got involved and the father has leapt on it to settle scores with his ex. 8 months later and CPS still can’t say if she is being charged but her relationship with her daughter has seriously suffered. Both the child and the mother are victims of this incompetent system

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  3. It’s been 2 years april 2018 since my boyfriend been on police bail and goes next week again.for sexual assault how can cps take so long to decide as other people and family get hurt and pain it causes.
    He never had a solicitor in interview he said he never done anything he didn’t need one.help

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  4. A friend was interviewed under caution (voluntarily) for theft from employer. It’s a complicated case with no physical evidence, only her own admission that she was borrowing funds she had full control over and putting them back. The police carried out a search of her home which we believe was illegal. She hadn’t even given the voluntary interview at the time of the search never mind been arrested or charged. Her son opened the door to them but did not sign the pace sheet. Anyway, she was told she was bring reported for summons but hasn’t heard anything more. It’s almost 6 months. Surely there is a time limit at least for charges to be brought? Her employer has confirmed that all investigations are complete. There is nothing more for the police /cps to do than decide

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    1. My son is 21 and was interviewed under caution a year and half ago for rape (which he never did his ex had been making up lies to stop him from having contact with his 1 half year old daughter who he has never seen ) he has serious mental health issues and has been waiting ever since to find out if he will be charged.the whole family are in a constant state of anxiety and worry for his safety i did have regular contact with the DCI who was investigating him but (now as last time i was told that the cps were making a decision ny the 27 march 2018) as this date has been and gone with again no decision made i was told by the DCI to stop pestering her !!!!!! Really does she have any idea of the pressure that we as a family are under or my sons deteriorating mental health I DONT THINK SO HOW RUDE #!!!!!!! Needless to say we are still waiting #!!!!!

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  5. Similar to Jane’s son’s case. My son is 21 and has been on bail for 18 mths for a rape he didn’t commit. The girl cried rape when, after they had consensual sex in his car, she got into an argument for being late home. She gave no thought to the consequences for him of her lies, and clearly relished the sympathy and attention she was then given. Meanwhile my son has been suicidal, on the verge of a mental breakdown, lost his job, sacked within 2 days of starting a new job, (word reached his boss), just been turned down for another as someone informed the company of the rape allegation, and has been barred from seeing his young child by the child’s mother until this is resolved. He’s received threats of physical harm from the girl’s relatives, and we’ve had to install cctv around the house. We’re STILL waiting for a decision from the CPS. Sometimes the real victim is the innocent person who’s been accused, it’s time the police and CPS realised this.

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  6. I can’t find anything on the web, does anyone know if there are time limits that apply to the CPS making a decision? I know the new bail time limits don’t apply to cases before the new Bill was brought in 2017, but surely there must be something that can be done to prevent these lengthy waits. If a decision to charge is made, how long before it goes to court?

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  7. My son was underwent a ‘voluntary interview” about possession of a small amount of class B drugs in August 17. The entire family has had the year from hell, I had a complete nervous breakdown, my 18 year old is now manic depressive and struggling to cope at Uni. We still have no idea what might happen to him. I am a widow so having to cope alone, his two siblings and I are at breaking point 😥

    Reply

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