When do the police stop investigating a crime? - Stuart Miller Solicitors (2023)

If you have been arrested or interviewed, but not yet charged, you may be wondering how long the police can keep you in a state of suspense before deciding whether to proceed with your case. Waiting in limbo is difficult and the uncertainty regarding the future is likely to be placing pressure on your life, from your work to your family relationships. If you are in this position, you may be reassured to hear that the fact that you are the subject of a police investigation does not necessarily mean that you will be prosecuted.

In 2018, of all the criminal cases investigated by the police, only 9% resulted in a charge being brought.

This article aims to answer your questions regarding your rights in police investigations. We cover what happens in a police investigation, and how long investigations can stay open in the UK. We also look at how you can know if a police investigation has been closed. Finally, we answer the question of whether you can sue the police for failure to investigate a crime.

What happens in a police investigation?

The purpose of a police investigation is to gather evidence to assess whether a crime has taken place. If the police’s investigation suggests that a crime has taken place, the evidence that they gather will be used to support a criminal prosecution.

As part of the process of evidence gathering, the police will collect forensic evidence from the crime scene such as footprints and DNA. The police will take statements from witnesses who have relevant information to offer. Depending on the case, they may collect electronic information, which could be information from electronic devices that have been seized or information held in the cloud. They may also obtain financial information, such as your bank statements. The police have the right to obtain this information directly from the bank with a warrant.

If there is uncertainty regarding the identity of the suspect, identification procedures may be used, such as an identity parade, in which witnesses are asked to identify the suspect.

Most importantly, the police will interview whoever is suspected of the crime. The interview may take place prior to arrest (a voluntary interview), or after the suspect has been arrested. You have the right to obtain legal advice prior to your interview and to have a solicitor present during your interview.

Once the police investigation has been completed, the police will then decide whether to charge the suspect. If the suspect is charged, they will either be released on bail or remanded in custody. If they are not charged, they will be released. If the investigation is ongoing they will either be released on pre-charge bail or ‘released under investigation’.

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How long can an investigation stay open in England and Wales?

There is no general time limit for how long a police investigation can stay open in England and Wales. For summary only offences, which are heard in the Magistrates’ Court, the case must be heard within twelve months of the crime. For example, in a case of common assault, if it took place on 1 December, the trial must take place before 1 June. However, for indictable offences, there is no such time limit.

In 2017, the government changed the rules on pre-charge bail through the Policing and Crime Act 2017. The changes restricted the police’s rights to release suspects on bail before they have been charged with an offence. The reason for these changes was a concern that the overuse of pre-charge bail for lengthy periods by the police was inhibiting the civil liberties of suspects. The changes to the law on pre-charge bail mean that:

  • An officer of the rank inspector or above must authorise bail.
  • The custody officer must be satisfied that releasing the person on bail is necessary and proportionate, having regard to all the circumstances and particularly the bail conditions that would be imposed.
  • The suspect can be initially bailed for up to 28 days. The exception to this is serious fraud cases where initial bail can be for up to 3 months. Note that this can be extended for up to three months. Pre-charge bail can only be extended beyond three months with a Magistrate’s Court hearing.

These changes have led to a dramatic decrease in the use of pre-charge bail. However, now, instead of releasing suspects on pre-charge bail, suspects tend to be released under investigation. This means that the suspect has been released with no obligation to return on bail. However, the investigation remains ongoing.

How do you know if a police investigation has been closed?

If you have been released on pre-charge bail, or if you have been released under investigation, the police will notify you if they decide to close the investigation. They may use the term ‘no further action’ (NFA) to describe their decision not to proceed further with the case. If you do not hear anything from the police, you could contact them to enquire as to the status of the investigation.

If you would prefer not to contact the officers involved with investigating your case, you can also submit a subject access request to the police service that investigated the case. A subject access request is a request for all the information held about you by that police force. This record will show if the investigation has been closed. However, if the investigation is ongoing, information regarding that investigation will be withheld from your subject access request because the police are not obliged to release information concerning a live investigation.

Can I sue the police for not investigating something in England and Wales?

The general rule is that you cannot bring a claim in tort (i.e. a civil case) against the police for failure to investigate a crime. This is an issue that the courts have considered many times over the years. The courts are reluctant to impose liability on the police in cases where there has been an omission to act (where they have not done something). The reason given for this is one of public policy, for the fear that claims for failure to investigate would open the floodgates, leading to many thousands of claims against the police lodged in the civil courts. This means that, for example, you cannot sue the police for failing to investigate the theft of your car.

In these circumstances, you could instead lodge a complaint with your local police force. Lodging a complaint would impose a duty on the police to investigate the complaint and the provide you with an explanation of why the crime was not investigated.

However, the exception to the rule that you cannot sue the police for failure to investigate is where there has been a human rights violation. A case in the UK Supreme Court has established that when a human rights violation takes place, the state has to investigate by law. For example, if a person has been killed, the right to life has been violated. If a person has been sexually assaulted, this is a contravention of the prohibition on inhumane and degrading treatment. In these circumstances, the police have an investigative obligation under human rights law.

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This obligation involves the police taking all reasonable steps to investigate the crime. It also obliges the police to keep the victim, or their family in the case of bereavement, updated. This obligation arises even if the wrongdoer was not the state. Say, for example, a man murders his wife; the investigative obligation would then arise. A well publicised example of this is the case of John Worboys, who was branded by the press as the ‘taxi cab rapist’. He was eventually convicted of raping and sexually assaulting multiple women whilst working as a taxi driver. However, police investigative failures delayed his apprehension and prosecution, allowing him to commit more heinous crimes of the same type.

In 2018, the Supreme Court held that the police were liable for their failure to investigate.

Therefore, if you have been a victim of a serious crime, and the police have failed to investigate, you may be able to sue the police.

Claims under the Human Rights Act 1998 must be brought within 12 months of the date of the harm. Therefore, if you think that you may have a human rights claim against the police for failure to investigate, you should contact a civil liberties solicitor as soon as possible. Legal cases take time to build, so do not wait until the one year deadline before seeking legal advice.

Where to get further help

If you believe that your rights may have been breached by the police, get in touch with the experts at Stuart Miller Solicitors today. Our team of experienced civil liberties solicitors are here to advise you of your rights. We can explain the police complaints process and inform you regarding whether you have an actionable civil claim. Contact us to arrange a no obligation consultation today.


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How long do most criminal investigations last? ›

This investigative process can take weeks, months, or even longer depending on the type of alleged crime, and the work load of the detective.

How do you know if you are under investigation? ›

Signs That You Are Under Police Investigation

You are contacted or visited by the police. Your family or friends are contacted or visited by the police. You notice police officers or unmarked cars watching or following you. You receive strange requests on social media.

What does no further action is required mean? ›

“No Further Action” – are these words you want to hear when you are being investigated for committing an offence or not? No Further Action (NFA) in effect means that the Police are not taking any further action against you in respect of the allegations against you.

Is there a 6 month time limit on prosecution UK? ›

S. 127 of the Magistrates' Court Act 1980 enforces a strict time limit of 6 months from the time the offence is committed for the information to be 'laid on the court' in the majority of cases. There are some niche exceptions which apply to this rule.

Why would an investigation take so long? ›

An investigation will continue until authorities have gathered enough evidence to proceed forward with the case or decide that there isn't enough evidence on which to proceed. This might involve waiting for the turnaround of forensic evidence or locating and interviewing witnesses, victims, or additional suspects.

How long does the average federal investigation take? ›

A Federal investigation can last upwards of 5 years due to most Federal Statute of Limitations prohibiting the Government from charging or indicting someone after that time period. Typically, Federal investigations take no longer than one – two (1-2) years.

What stages does an investigation go through? ›

Investigation Stage
  • Viewing the scene of a crime.
  • A warrant being executed at a premises (or dawn raid)
  • Obtaining a restraint order.
  • Obtaining a production order.
  • Collecting physical and forensic evidence.
  • Obtaining witness statements.
  • Instructing an expert.
  • Conducting interviews under caution.

How do you tell if the police are watching you? ›

Confirming Physical Surveillance
  1. a person being somewhere he has no purpose being or for doing something he has no reason to be doing (blatant poor demeanor) or something more subtle.
  2. moving when the target moves.
  3. communicating when the target moves.
  4. avoiding eye contact with the target.
  5. making sudden turns or stops.
Sep 1, 2022

How long does released under investigation last? ›

If you have been released under investigation, it means that the police are continuing to investigate the alleged criminal offence. There are no time limits the police will set for the investigation. There are also no conditions which you must follow, unlike being placed on bail.

What happens after police investigation? ›

Once the police investigation has been completed, the police will then decide whether to charge the suspect. If the suspect is charged, they will either be released on bail or remanded in custody. If they are not charged, they will be released.

Why would police take no further action? ›

No Further Action “NFA”

A decision to proceed with no further action could occur because there is insufficient evidence to proceed or because it is not in the public interest to prosecute.

How long do police have to prosecute you? ›

If the police arrest you and hold you at the police station due to your actions or inactions, they normally have to make a charging decision within 24 hours or release you.

How long until you can't be prosecuted? ›

The statute of limitations is the time limit for filing charges against the defendant. The general federal statute of limitations for felonies stand for the proposition that the government can no longer file criminal charges for an offense once 5 years has passed. The federal statute of limitations is 18 USC 3282.

Can I still be charged after 6 months? ›

The general rule for time limits on summary only offences is that prosecutions will be time barred if information is laid more than six months after the date of the offence.

What happens when investigation Cannot be completed in 24 hours? ›

Whenever any person is arrested and detained in custody, and it appears that the investigation cannot be completed within the period of twenty-four hours fixed by section 57, and there are grounds for believing that the accusation or information is well-founded, the officer in charge of the police station or the police ...

Why do police investigations fail? ›

This article identifies "cognitive biases," "organizational traps," and "probability errors" that lead to failures in criminal investigations, i.e. the failure to prosecute the guilty person or the mistaken prosecution of an innocent person.

What makes a strong investigation? ›

A successful investigation begins with the right people, significant support from management, the right supplies, sufficient funding and other identified resources. Investigators need effective tools to complete investigations and this isn't an area where companies can cut corners.

What triggers a federal investigation? ›

What starts a federal investigation? In most cases, a federal investigation is triggered by the filing of a credible crime report. Sometimes, it may also commence as a result of information law enforcement agents receive from defendants in pending criminal cases who are hoping to receive leniency (i.e., cooperators).

How long should a work investigation take? ›

Some investigations might take longer depending on the case and how many people need to give information. For example, a simple case might only take a day to gather enough information, whereas a more complicated case could take several weeks.

Why would the feds pick up a case? ›

If it's a violation of federal law. State penalties are usually harsher than Federal penalties so Federal authorities usually let the states prosecute.

What are the 5 investigative process? ›

These include collection, analysis, theory development and validation, suspect identification and forming reasonable grounds, and taking action to arrest, search, and lay charges.

What are the 7 steps of investigation? ›

The Seven S'S of Crime-Scene Investigation
  • Securing the Scene.
  • Separating the Witnesses.
  • Scanning the Scene.
  • Seeing the Scene.
  • Sketching the Scene.
  • Searching for Evidence.
  • Securing and Collecting Evidence.

What are the 3 levels of investigation? ›

Scientists use three types of investigations to research and develop explanations for events in the nature: descriptive investigation, comparative investigation, and experimental investigation.

What is the outcome of an investigation? ›

The outcome of an investigation and assessment is a decision made at a point in time based on the assessment of information known by the investigating officer at that time and approved by a senior officer, usually a senior team leader.

What is the process of investigating a crime? ›

The process of investigation or the investigative process is a series of activities or steps that include gathering evidence, analyzing information, developing and validating theories, forming reasonable grounds to believe, and finally arresting and charging a suspect.

What is the most important stages of criminal investigation? ›

Interrogation of suspects is one of the most important functions of criminal investigation. In most countries this proceeding is delicate because a confession gained in violation of the suspect's rights can be repudiated in court.

Can police watch you through your phone? ›

What are the Restrictions on Wiretapping? Police officers cannot listen to your private conversations on your phone if you are an ordinary citizen unless they have a wiretap order.

Can police see you through your phone? ›

Thanks to the Fourth Amendment, the police cannot search your phone without a warrant. The police are allowed to ask you to unlock your phone and hand it over, but you have the right to decline this request. However, a police officer can take your phone as evidence, even without a warrant.

Can police look at my phone? ›

Unless the data on the phone is encrypted the police can still access the information lawfully with specialist software. However, the police would usually warn a suspect that they could potentially damage the device in doing this.

What does it mean when an inmate is under investigation? ›

Under Investigation But Not Charged. The most crucial time in a case, from a criminal defense standpoint, is when all suspects and evidence are being investigated. This is the stage of investigation where law enforcement is looking for evidence to build a case against a suspect.

How long is an account under investigation? ›

Per current regulations, banks take between 30 and 90 days to evaluate, respond, and resolve problematic transactions. In some instances, law enforcement might be informed depending on the fraud and identity theft level.

How long can police keep your phone? ›

The police will hold your property until all relevant matters have been dealt with. Once the letter of authorisation has been sent to you the general procedure is for them to wait 28 days for you to collect your property or for a response either by telephone or in writing.

Can a police investigation be reopened? ›

Closing an investigation

Sometimes we get new information or discover new evidence, in which case we can reopen the investigation and update you. Whether or not this happens, your report and the information we have is valuable.

How long does a police report stay on file? ›

for three years from the date taken if the individual was arrested for, or charged with, a qualifying offence (but the police have the right to ask for an extension). Note that the data will be held indefinitely if the subject has previously been convicted of a recordable offence which is not an excluded offence.

When the police have failed to investigate an offence? ›

Complaint to the IOPC

If you believe that a police force, or a particular police officer, has not acted appropriately in recording or investigating a crime you have reported, you may complain directly to the police force involved or in some cases, to the IOPC.

Can you ignore a cop? ›

In general, you do not have to talk to law enforcement officers (or anyone else), even if you do not feel free to walk away from the officer, you are arrested, or you are in jail. You cannot be punished for refusing to answer a question. It is a good idea to talk to a lawyer before agreeing to answer questions.

Can police stop us for no reason? ›

Getting pulled over by the traffic police is very common. As long as you have not committed an offence, there is no reason to worry. Most of the time the police stop a car to check if a car owner is following motor laws, such as compulsion of third party insurance cover for all motor vehicles.

Can you challenge a police decision? ›

You can apply for a right of review if you're unhappy about the outcome of your complaint or the way it was handled. Reviews are carried out either by your local Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC), or the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) in serious cases.

Can police prosecute after 14 days? ›

The 14 days starts running from the date of the offence and as long as the notice of intended prosecution is sent to the registered owner within 14 days, that will mean that a prosecution can be pursued even though the driver may not receive a notice intended prosecution within those 14 days.

Is there a time limit on notice of intended prosecution? ›

The NIP must be served upon the registered keeper within 14 days of the incident, as failure to do so could render the NIP invalid, with some exceptions. Occasionally, the user of the car may receive a NIP after 14 days if the vehicle is a lease vehicle and is still registered with the lease company etc.

How long can police detain you with charge? ›

You may only be legally detained for 24 hours from your arrest without being charged and being informed of the allegations against you. An officer - who must hold the rank of Superintendent or higher - may be able to authorise a further 12-hour period of detention in exceptional cases, for a total of 36 hours.

What crimes have the longest statute of limitations? ›

Federal Crimes with Statutes of Limitations Longer than the General Five-Year Time Limit
  • tax evasion or failure to file a tax return — 6 years from the date of the crime.
  • fraud against the U.S. involving $1,000,000 or more —7 years from the date of the crime.
Jul 18, 2022

What crime has the shortest statute of limitations? ›

Severe crimes, such as murder, typically have no maximum period. Under international law, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and genocide have no statute of limitations.

How do I get charges dropped before court date? ›

There are two main ways charges against you may be dropped:
  1. Formal acquittal. ...
  2. Discontinuance. ...
  3. Lack of evidence. ...
  4. Evidence against you was illegally obtained. ...
  5. The prosecution is not in the public interest. ...
  6. To buy time to prepare for a later trial.
Jul 20, 2021

What is the 6 month rule on prosecution? ›

In general, proceedings must be commenced within six months of the criminal act that is being complained of. There are however many exceptions to this rule. These exceptions in particular will apply to the following types of offence: welfare benefits.

Can you be summoned to court after 6 months? ›

How long have the Police got to issue the Summons? In the vast majority of cases, the Police must "lay information" within 6 months of the offence occurring. This means that the Police must ask the Court to issue a Summons within that period of time.

Can you go to jail for lying to the police? ›

What could happen to people making false reports? Making a false report could lead to a fine, a conviction for wasting police time or even a prison sentence for the more serious offence of perverting the course of justice. The offence carries a maximum penalty of six months imprisonment.

How long can a job investigation last? ›

An HR department typically takes three days to a week to investigate a complaint. The time frame can depend upon your specific company and its HR department, what the complaint pertains to, and how many witnesses or relevant employees need to be interviewed to complete the investigation.

How long can a work investigation take? ›

For example, a simple case might only take a day to gather enough information, whereas a more complicated case could take several weeks. Your organisation might have timescales for investigations written in their policy.

What rights does a suspect have during an investigation? ›

You have the right to be informed of the offence that you are suspected of having committed (whether you are in arrest or not), including where and when it is thought it was committed, why it is suspected that you committed the offence and why it was believed to be necessary to arrest and detain you.

How long can your bank account be under investigation? ›

Per current regulations, banks take between 30 and 90 days to evaluate, respond, and resolve problematic transactions. In some instances, law enforcement might be informed depending on the fraud and identity theft level.

Can you quit a job while being investigated? ›

If you are being investigated for violating your company's code of conduct, two options you have are to take an administrative leave or resign from your position.

Can you leave a job under investigation? ›

Yes, you can. In fact, it is not uncommon to consider resigning when you are facing disciplinary allegations, but this is a very tactical situation and one that ideally you should take legal advice on before you make any decision.

What is the typical timeframe for completing investigation on receiving a complaint? ›

After the complaint is received it is time for the IC to get to finish inquiry and redress the issue. The POSH Act mandates that the IC must complete the inquiry within 90 days. Before going into an investigation, the IC can attempt to settle the matter between the complainant and respondent.

How long should a police investigation last? ›

There is no general time limit for how long a police investigation can stay open in England and Wales. For summary only offences, which are heard in the Magistrates' Court, the case must be heard within twelve months of the crime.

How long do internal investigations take? ›

Ideally, an HR investigation should be completed within one to two weeks of receiving the complaint. Responsiveness to an employee's complaint about workplace concerns not only enables the employer to gather the best information but also allows the employer to resolve internal problems before they are widespread.

What are the stages in the conduct of investigation? ›

These include collection, analysis, theory development and validation, suspect identification and forming reasonable grounds, and taking action to arrest, search, and lay charges.

What is the rule of police in investigating a crime? ›

Under Section 156 the police have the power to investigate a cognizable offence even without the order of a Magistrate. Also, in a situation where the police do not start the investigation by themselves then the Magistrate can order the initiation of investigation as stated under Section 190 of CrPC.

How do you defend yourself in an investigation? ›

How to Defend Yourself Against False Accusations
  1. Stay Calm. ...
  2. Hire an Attorney to Help You Fight Back. ...
  3. Gather Evidence. ...
  4. Challenge the Accuser's Credibility. ...
  5. Find Your Own Witnesses and Present Evidence of Your Side of the Story. ...
  6. Develop a Strategy in Criminal Defense Cases.
Aug 8, 2022

What are the guidelines that the police have to follow during investigation? ›

The Supreme Court has laid down guidelines that the police must follow at the time of arrest, detention and interrogation. The police are not allowed to torture or beat or shoot anyone during the investigation. They cannot inflict any form of punishment on a person even for petty offences.

How much money can you put in the bank before you get flagged? ›

Depositing a big amount of cash that is $10,000 or more means your bank or credit union will report it to the federal government. The $10,000 threshold was created as part of the Bank Secrecy Act, passed by Congress in 1970, and adjusted with the Patriot Act in 2002.

Why do police freeze bank accounts? ›

They are frequently made when the police have little or no evidence to suspect the money in an account is the product of illegal conduct.

What makes a bank account get flagged? ›

Banks may freeze bank accounts if they suspect illegal activity such as money laundering, terrorist financing, or writing bad checks. Creditors can seek judgment against you which can lead a bank to freeze your account. The government can request an account freeze for any unpaid taxes or student loans.


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