On Bail Forever?
Bail - the ability to await a verdict in the comfort of the defendant's home. To some, the existence of bail might seem unreasonable; to others, the contrary. However, it is the legal system's job to weigh the interests of the accused and the interests of the public. Even though the concept of bail might seem like a straightforward action, there are crucial uncertainties that affect people’s liberty. This article will discuss the remand, bail, and RUI conditions under English and Welsh law which showcase those uncertainties.
Although people might view bail as a temporary escape for criminals; however, in the eyes of the law, it is not. Bail is only granted to those who have yet to be charged and were only accused of committing a crime. Moreover, in all cases, bail can be denied to those that do not fit a specific criteria or are an apparent threat to the public. As well as in most cases, those who have allegedly committed the most severe crimes are not granted a favour of bail from the start. Nonetheless, the principle of innocence until proven guilty takes priority, as a person's liberty is not an object to be taken away without consideration.
In many cases, bail is the only saving grace for those who have been wrongly accused. Those who have not been granted bail and remain on remand must be brought to the magistrates' court as soon as possible. In the case when bail is granted you still must attend an official court hearing that will be set on a hopefully soon date. In both cases there is the uncertainty and ambiguity of when the trial will take place and unfortunately, there is no maximum period one can stay on remand or bail. Although being on remand invites a sense of urgency onto the Crown Prosecution Service(CPS), the key issue of this ambiguous period is that it is spent in jail cells, and such are not the most comfortable environment to be present in, especially without the knowledge when you are let out. Although bail can be spent in a more relaxed environment(this environment in most cases must be controlled), the question of when will there be a trial? Only becomes more challenging to answer.
On the 31st of January 2017, what was intended to be a solution to this uncertainty was enacted - The Policing and Crime Act 2017. This act introduced a time frame for bail. In the time frame of 28 days, the CPS must either charge the defendant or place them under an RUI - a release under investigation. RUI is a less formal bail, with fewer to no conditions established, that allows the police to continue their investigation and decide whether they want to charge the accused. This new invention was supposed to increase efficiency of the CPS while decreasing the crime rate. Notwithstanding, The Policing and Crime Act had a quite opposite effect. These investigations required more funds and money, which had already been limited. As a result, the introduction of RUI has led to a decrease in people charged, and people put on bail, while an increase of people under RUI. Something to be taken into account is that being put on RUI does not decrease your chances of being charged; it only puts a delay on the hearing. A delay that also existed with bail, however, could have only lasted a couple of months, but an RUI delay could last years.
Imagine a scenario where a 16-year-old committed an offence and, in the best case scenario, would have served a community service sentence if a trial occurred. However, they were put on RUI. After a week, no charges have been pressed. Then a month passes with no charges from CPS, then a year with no charges and barely any contact with a lawyer. In two years, the defendant would turn 18, and finally, the CPS set a court hearing date. However, the issue is that the defendant is not 16 anymore, and a more severe sentence is likely to be imposed.
What could be unreasonably long periods on RUI can lead to losing contact with a legal advisor and greater sentences. Even though the above is a hypothetical scenario, it is not unrealistic. Long periods on bail have become excessively long periods on RUI. What was meant to be a solution only turned out to be a transfer.
Cusick J, ‘Home Office Pledge to Review “Excessive” Time Spent on Bail Is Ignored’ (The Independent28 May 2013) <https://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/home-office-pledge-to-review-excessive-time-spent-on-bail-is-ignored-by-government-8635066.html>
Rosser R, ‘Released under Investigation: The Real Reason Why Fewer People Are Being Charged with Offences’ (Legal Cheek26 June 2019) <https://www.legalcheek.com/2019/06/the-real-reason-why-fewer-people-are-being-charged-with-offences/>
‘The Criminal Purgatory - Release under Investigation – Is the End in Sight? -’ (crimejottings.com10 March 2020) <https://crimejottings.com/2020/03/10/the-criminal-purgatory-release-under-investigation-is-the-end-in-sight/>