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England and Wales: Justice system completely broken as hundreds face fourth Christmas on remand
- FOI request reveals more than 350 people have been held on remand in England and Wales for more than three years.
- More than 2,000 have been held for over a year, more than 2,500 people have been held for over six months.
- Remand level at its highest for 50 years
- Black people are disproportionately remanded more than white people, despite being less likely to be sent to prison and more likely to be acquitted at trial.
- Case backlog has reached more than 61,000 cases awaiting trial. 75,000 defendants are awaiting Crown Court trials
A Freedom of Information (FOI) request by Fair Trials has revealed that hundreds of people on remand could be facing their fourth Christmas behind bars. More than 350 people in England and Wales have been held on remand for more than three years. They will include Voja Petkovic, who will have been on remand for four years in January 2023. The remand prison population is at its highest for at least 50 years, with a 12% increase over the last year. Meanwhile, the number of cases awaiting trial in the Crown Court has reached a new record-high of 61,212.
Griff Ferris, Fair Trials Senior Legal and Policy Officer said:
“There’s no justice in a system that imprisons people awaiting trial for years. There’s no justice in a system where black people are repeatedly remanded in custody more than white people.
“With the highest level of remand in 50 years, a record number of people awaiting trial, and deep-rooted racist inequalities throughout, the criminal justice system in England and Wales is completely broken.
“The answer to these structural injustices and prejudices lie in de-criminalisation and releasing people from custody, rather than the current government’s agenda of finding more ways to criminalise and imprison people.”
Many people held on remand will walk free
Many people who are held on remand will walk free after trial. In 2021, more than 1 in 5 people (21%) were not sent to prison after being held on remand, and 1 in 10 people held on remand were subsequently acquitted at trial.
(Ministry of Justice statistics recorded 33,059 people held on remand. 7,046 of those people were not sent to prison following their trial, and 3,196 were acquitted at trial).
Black defendants are much more likely to be remanded than white defendants
Black people are disproportionately remanded in custody more than white people, despite being more likely to be acquitted and less likely to be sent to prison at trial.
In 2021, 47% of Black defendants (3,478 out of 7,431 overall) were remanded in custody during Crown Court proceedings, compared to 37 per cent of white defendants (17,538 out of 47,107 overall).
This is despite Black people being more likely to be acquitted at trial than white people after being held on remand, as well as more likely not to be sent to prison after trial following being held on remand.
In 2021, 3,478 Black people were remanded in custody, of which 482 (14%) were acquitted and 848 (24%) did not receive an immediate custodial sentence. In the same year, 2021, 17,538 white people were remanded in custody, of which 1,460 (8%) were acquitted, and 3,438 (19%) did not receive an immediate custodial sentence.
Rising suicides among remand prisoners
The uncertainty and extended periods in prison on remand awaiting trial may be contributing to shocking increases in suicides among remand prisoners, remand inmates accounting for more than 40 per cent of suicides in prison in 2020-2021, despite only being 16 per cent of the prison population. The rates were also double the previous year.
Fair Trials report, Locked up in Lockdown: life on remand during the pandemic, contained first-hand accounts from people held on remand over the last two years, detailing how extreme the conditions have been, including reports of self-harm and suicide.
Backlog of cases awaiting trial rises to record-high
The backlog of cases in the Crown Court has risen to a record high of 61,212. The Ministry of Justice say they will be spending £477 million to reduce that backlog by just 5,000 cases to 53,000 in 2025.
A huge backlog of almost 40,000 existed before the pandemic, after the government closed half the courts across England and Wales and sold a third between 2010 and 2020, and cut funding to other key areas, including legal aid.