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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.

The law will from now on encourage the Police to place individuals under pre-charge bail in “every case where it is necessary and appropriate,” as opposed to releasing them under investigation (RUI). This will be achieved by removing the perceived presumption against using pre-charge bail that has existed in the law up until this time.

The police must now consider releasing suspects on Pre Charge Bail where a case is ongoing. The police must follow a set of rules by law. Read more about the recent Pre-Charge Bail law updates here

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?

Pre-charge bail time periods

In addition, new pre-charge bail time periods will be introduced for suspects which are more balanced and proportionate to the crime. Victims will therefore be better protected through a new requirement to seek the views of victims on pre-charge bail conditions. The new provisions will mean that:

  • Standard cases will have a new initial bail period of 3 months. They can be subject to two further extensions by the Police before going to the Magistrates for further extensions:
    • By 3 to 6 months from the bail start date by an inspector
    • By 6 to 9 months from the bail start date by a superintendent.
  • In standard cases which are designated as exceptionally complex (i.e. they will have already been subject to the second extension above), or in non-standard cases, bail can be extended by up to 12 months from the bail start date before coming before a Magistrates’ court.

Statutory guidance is being developed to underpin the pre-charge bail regime and ensure greater consistency across forces in how the regime is applied

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

If the police wish to extend this bail period further than the above periods, 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. Sometimes they can decide no further action in serious cases but open a case up again if more evidence comes to light. In less serious cases time limits apply. 

The police do not always have the time or resources to notify you and you may need to follow a result with them or we can do this if you instruct us. Sometimes you should not follow up on cases and remind the police to take action. 

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

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Common questions

We always work with the most experienced and best leading UK barristers, KCs (Kings Counsel). We cover all criminal cases 24/7 at the police station and court. Offices in London, Birmingham, and Manchester cover cases across England and Wales. We can offer Legal Aid and affordable Private fee agreements. We can see you the same day, including virtually. Our Senior Partners supervise all of our cases.

How quickly do you respond?

We respond quickly even during out of hours. We do not get our work by paying for online adverts but based on the fact that few criminal law firms can match our 45 years of experience. Most of our cases are still from word-of-mouth recommendations from satisfied clients. We are called daily by dissatisfied clients from firms with less experience than us. We respond very quickly to new enquiries. We know what clients seek and so we update clients rapidly.

Can you get cases dropped?

Yes, read about the recent cases we've helped our clients with here.

We always keep you updated and give straightforward advice. We will get cases dropped early where the case is weak or should not be prosecuted. We will be upfront with you about where you can benefit from a good result with an early guilty plea, such as a discount on your sentence. As we work on cases across all levels with clients from all walks of life, we are excellent at giving clear, spot-on advice. As an established firm, we can allocate a whole team to your case often at short notice to secure evidence to minimise the damage to you. 

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"JD Spicer Zeb demonstrated a clear commitment to client service through their work with vulnerable and diverse individuals in what can be severely traumatic circumstances".

Do you offer free consultations?

Where it is possible, we aim to provide an initial consultation to you. If we can speak to you, we can if required inform you about  –

  • Whether we can take the case on and our relevant experience.
  • Public and private funding benefits.
  • Assistance in applying for legal aid where we are likely to accept instructions.
  • An outline of options in police interview only. We will not advise you on which option to adopt.
  • Providing our free written guide explaining the police station process.
  • The gravity of routine and day-to-day offences you face.
  • Consequences of not attending the court or police station.
  • Consequences of interfering with any witnesses.
  • Retaining any evidence in support of your case.
  • If possible an outline of the elements of the offence that the police or CPS must prove.
  • This consultation will normally be by telephone or email and will only be for as long as we deem necessary to establish if we can act for you. If we cannot usefully give you any advice in this manner then we will not continue with the consultation. We will not discuss the case in depth for you to be able to decide on your plea or any significant aspect of the case, as this cannot be undertaken informally.
  • Referring you, if possible, to other firms for matters out of our specialism or if we cannot help.

Consultations do not apply to the following cases –

  • If we do not intend to take the case on.
  • Road Traffic cases, drink driving, drug driving, driving bans, speeding, no insurance, mobile phone use, points etc.
  • In all cases where we do not have the capacity to take your case or the availability of suitably qualified staff to provide an initial free consultation. This is applicable in all cases but especially where a more senior lawyer is required because of your personal needs or the complexity of the case.
  • Harassment/stalking/ coercive behaviour/malicious communications or road traffic cases and most sensitive cases. These cases are often too complicated to assess in short consultations.
  • The locations concerned may be too distant to represent you adequately or it may not be cost-effective for you or us.
  • The case is too complicated to assess or raises various charges or facts, complexity, or history to be considered informally or in a short consultation.
  • In most Legal aid transfers where legal aid is granted to another firm except in very grave cases, we may assess the case and merits for a transfer.
  • If your relationship has broken down with your existing solicitor or several solicitors.
  • If you have been released under investigation and have already had a police station attendance. 
  • If you hold legal aid with another firm and seek a second opinion.
  • If you are calling on behalf of the client as a friend or family member unless you have full authority and full facts.
  • To businesses.
  • Advising whether you were given good advice by your other solicitor.
  • Whether to decide to plead guilty or not guilty.
  • Whether you have an arguable defence in law or factually complicated defences.
  • Any advice you have had after your first court appearance.
  • Any advice on appeal on conviction or sentence.
  • If we feel we are unable to communicate with you.
  • If we are likely to be conflicted or breach our professional rules.