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On Bail But Not Charged - What Does It Mean?

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If you are under investigation for committing a crime, the police may decide to release you on bail. While this is, of course, a preferable outcome compared to being remanded in police custody, it still leaves plenty of room for uncertainty and anxiety.

Being released on bail can be very distressing, especially as you may be concerned about the potential repercussions for your career and family. It is important to note, however, that unless you receive a charge, information concerning the case will not be recorded on the Police National Computer, which means that a record of you being on bail will not show up on a standard Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check.

Here, we discuss everything you need to know about being released on bail or pre-charge bail and what the potential implications may be depending on the circumstances of your individual case.

What is pre-charge bail?

If you have been arrested, you will usually be taken to the police station for further questioning. Once you have been interviewed by the police and your case has been thoroughly reviewed, the police have various options at their disposal.

If you are either released on bail or under investigation, this means the police are not yet ready to make a charging decision on your case, but the investigation still remains active.

There are a number of potential reasons for pre-charge bail. It may be that there is, at the time, insufficient evidence to charge you. It may also no longer be necessary to detail you to preserve evidence or, because of the nature of the offence, the police have to refer the case to the CPS to make a charging decision.

I have been released on bail, what happens next?

If you are released on pre-charge bail, the police have a specific window of time to make a charging decision on your case. The police can take on various actions, which are:

  • Charge you and keep you in custody or bail you ahead of an appearance at a Magistrates’ Court
  • Release you with no further action
  • Release you on pre-charge bail
  • Release you ‘under investigation’

If you are charged, you will first appear at the Magistrates’ Court. If the matter is a summary only offence, you will be required to plead guilty or not guilty.

For either way offences, the plea before venue procedure will be followed. This means that you will be required to indicate your pleas before the magistrate considers whether the Magistrates’ Court is an appropriate forum for the case to be heard. If the magistrate has the jurisdiction to hear the case, the Defendant will be asked to select whether the case stays in the Magistrates’ Court or is sent to the Crown Court.

For indictable only offences, you will be required to indicate your plea in the Magistrates’ Court. A guilty plea at the Magistrates’ Court will mean the case is listed in the Crown Court for a sentencing hearing, while a not-guilty plea will see the case be indicted to the Crown Court for trial.

There may be a range of other hearings that take place prior to the trial, but this will depend on several factors.

How long can you be on bail without being charged?

The Policing and Crime Act 2017 established a 28-day limit for pre-charge bail, with the only exception being if the case is being investigated by the Director of the Serious Fraud Office. This is because complex financial crimes often take much longer to investigate.

These changes to pre-charge bail time limits were put in place to address the issue of the police releasing suspects who were on bail but not charged for months at a time while failing to sufficiently progress their investigations.

My bail has been extended, is that good or bad?

In certain situations, 28-day limit for pre-charge bail can be extended to a period of three months.

If the police wish to extend this bail period further than three months, it must be authorised through the Magistrates’ Court.

It is not always possible to say whether a bail extension is a good or bad thing without having a full picture of your case and where you stand. An extended bail period may point towards the notion that the police are struggling to find sufficient evidence to charge you, while on the other hand, it may simply indicate that they are using the extra time to build a more compelling case.

Why would my bail be extended?

There are a number of potential reasons for pre-charge bail being extended. It could simply be because, as previously mentioned, the police are using the time to find a key piece of evidence that can be used to bring forward a charge, such as CCTV footage or a key witness statement.

Bail could also be extended if the offence in question is considered to be an ‘either way’ or ‘indictable only’ offence. In these situations, the police may be waiting for a charging decision from the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS).

What is the difference between being released on bail and released under investigation?

Being released under investigation is similar to being released on bail but not charged. However, when released under investigation, there are no bail conditions, nor is there a time limit on how long it takes to charge or release you.

This means that if you have been released under investigation, the police can resume their investigation at any time. In our expert experience, routine or less serious cases are often resolved within two to three months, but in more complicated cases, where the police need to obtain various statements and forensic evidence, it could take several additional months to reach a conclusion.

The police’s decision to place you on pre-charge bail or release you under investigation will usually be determined by the amount of evidence they need to gather to build an effective case or to maximise the chances of achieving a conviction.

How do I know if a police investigation is closed?

If you have been released on pre-bail charge, the police should be the ones to notify you if they have closed the investigation. In many instances, they will use the term ‘no further action’ (NFA) to describe their decision not to proceed with the case.

Unless the police make an extension to your bail period, if they do not make a decision regarding the outcome of your case within 28 days, then you will be released without charge.

Should I speak to a solicitor if I’m on bail?

The simple answer to this is yes, absolutely. Just because you have been released on bail and not remanded in police custody, this does not mean that you will be released without charge once the pre-charge bail period ends. If you have not already enlisted the support of a specialist criminal defence solicitor, it is absolutely vital that you do so as soon as possible.

A criminal defence solicitor can review your situation, the potential reasons for you being released on bail and advise you on the next best steps to take. On the same note, if you are asked to face another interview under caution, a criminal defence solicitor can be with you to ensure that you’re well represented, maximising the strength of your legal defence.

Similarly, if you have been released under investigation, this does not mean that the police will cease their investigation. Speaking to a solicitor is strongly advised.

Many people incorrectly assume that speaking to a solicitor is in some way an admission of guilt. After all, why would you need legal advice if you have done nothing wrong? This is not at all accurate.

No matter what your circumstances might be, you have a right to legal representation, and this could make all the difference when it comes to the final outcome of your case.

How can I get the police to drop charges against me?

Depending on your individual circumstances the police may not necessarily charge you bail without charge is entirely possible. They may elect to drop potential charges themselves, or they may decide to refer to the Crown Prosecution Service before any charging decision is made.

What factors could persuade the police not to charge you?

It may be that there is insufficient evidence. If this is the case, we can make representations to the police to this effect. We could, where appropriate, also point out to the police that they have not followed the appropriate procedural requirements when you were arrested. On arrest the police are obliged to give you certain information and comply with the provisions of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. Failure to do this may make an arrest unlawful.

If you have committed a minor offence such as stealing from a shop, or caused low value criminal damage and it is your first offence, the police may be persuaded not to charge you but instead to issue a caution. A caution is not a criminal conviction but will be recorded on the Police National Computer and could be referred to if you subsequently appear at court in relation to another criminal offence.

To receive a caution, you must admit the offence. The police could also offer a conditional caution. This may for example involve paying compensation if you have damaged someone else’s property. If you do not pay the compensation, then the police may charge you. Alternatively, the police may agree to a community resolution.

If you find yourself in the position mentioned above it is important that you get the correct legal advice that could potentially prevent you from being charged by the police and possibly having a criminal record.

Even if you are charged by the police there is still plenty that can be done before the matter comes to court.

Representations can be made to the Crown Prosecution Service to review the charge(s). There are numerous factors that can be put forward to support a request to drop a charge. However, the CPS would need compelling reasons to drop a charge. Examples could be that there is insufficient evidence to continue a prosecution or that to continue a prosecution would have a serious detrimental effect on a person’s health.

There are numerous other possible reasons for making representations to the CPS that would depend on a number of factors e.g. a caution is more suitable or that a person has made restoration where property has been damaged. It is therefore essential that expert legal advice is sought to possibly prevent a person receiving a criminal conviction and avoiding the potentially damaging consequences that flow from such a conviction.

Get immediate specialist legal advice about being released on bail

If you have been released on pre-charge bail, our criminal defence solicitors are on hand to lend their expertise and provide you with carefully tailored legal support.

Our expert knowledge and vast experience of the criminal justice system means that you can be confident knowing that your case is in the most dedicated and experienced hands. We will provide clear advice in plain English along with sympathetic personal support to help you through this difficult time.

You can contact us 24-hours a day, seven days a week, for an immediate free initial consultation, expert legal advice and representation.

Our highly experienced criminal defence lawyers offer:

  • 24/7 legal support in person and over the phone, 365 days a year
  • Representation anywhere in England or Wales
  • Accredited Police Station Representatives to support you during a police interview
  • Clear, effective legal advice in any language (see our languages spoken)
  • Local offices in LondonBirmingham or Manchester

If you need immediate advice and representation, please use our emergency contact numbers:

Birmingham – 07891 777090
Brent & Camden – 07836 577556
Manchester – 07798 701339