How long do the police have to investigate allegations?

Written 27th May 2021 by Martha Odysseos

Although police investigations begin from the initial report of an allegation, an individual will only know that they are being investigated once the police have contacted them. This can either be once the individual has been arrested or if they are contacted to attend a voluntary interview with the police.

The police will interview a suspect and then either:

  • Charge the individual and either release them with a date to appear in court or hold them in custody to appear in remand court
  • Release the individual on pre-charge bail or
  • Release the individual under investigation.

An individual will be released under investigation or on pre-charge bail if the police’s investigation has not been concluded. The police may have seized digital devices, documents and samples from their address which will need to be sent for forensic examination. In order to proceed with an investigation they may need to wait for experts to analyse any evidence and create reports that could then be used in the case against the individual. They may also want to interview the individual again or conduct further enquiries before seeking permission from the Crown Prosecutor to charge them.

Pre-Charge Bail

If an individual is released on pre-charge bail, the police have an initial time limit of 28 days to continue their investigation. However, this can be extended to three months by a senior police officer. In order to extend pre-charge bail the police officer must have reasonable grounds for:

  • Suspecting the individual is guilty
  • Believing that further time is needed to make the charge decision or to further carry out the investigation
  • The investigation and/or decision to charge is being made diligently and expeditiously and
  • The use of pre-charge bail is necessary and proportionate.

The police must allow the individual and their legal representative to make representations before they extend their bail. The police cannot extend pre-charge bail further than three months after the date of arrest without permission from the Magistrates Court. The Magistrates Court have the power to extend the pre-charge bail in further three or six month increments but they must be satisfied that further time for the investigation is needed.

If an individual is released on police bail, they will have a legal obligation to report to a particular police station or court on a set date and time. They may also be subject to certain restrictions on their liberty such as a curfew.

Although being released on bail will lead to more interaction with the police and therefore more updates on the investigation this does not mean that there is a set time limit for the investigation to conclude. An individual may be released from bail and re-bailed multiple times, meaning that the police essentially can continue their investigation until they ascertain that they have enough evidence to charge said individual.

Released Under Investigation

The Police and Crime Act 2017 brought in a presumption against using pre-charge bail. Instead, most individuals who are interviewed by the police are now released under investigation. This has essentially removed police investigation deadlines for a number of offences as well as minimising the contact police have with individuals they are investigating.

Time Limits to Investigations

For cases which can only be heard in the Magistrates Court the police have a time limit of 6 months from the date that the offence took place to start proceedings against a defendant (S.127 (1) Magistrates Court Act 1980).

For all other offences the police essentially have an unlimited time to investigate the case.

The length of the police investigation is dependent on a variety of factors including the type of offence being investigated and the amount of evidence the police have already gathered. Complex and serious cases will inevitably take longer for the police to investigate.

There is no legal obligation for the police to keep a suspect informed on the progress of their investigation once they have been released under investigation. This essentially leaves a suspect left in limbo for a period of weeks, months or even years until the police conclude their investigation. However, any evidence an individual provides the police in terms of their defence, either during their interview or through pre-charge representations may impact the length of the investigation

Contact our criminal investigations solicitors

Article written by Martha Odysseo. Olliers specialist in representing individuals at the pre-charge investigative stage. We understand the stress and anxiety an investigation can cause and will act on a pro-active basis in an effort to minimise the same. If  you would like to discuss how we can proactively assist you in relation to your case at a pre-charge stage, contact Ruth Peters by telephone on 0161 834 1515 or by email to

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