Fair Trials responds to High Court decision over Custody Time Limits

Article by Fair Trials

Fair Trials has raised concerns about the thousands of people being held on remand for excessive lengths of time, following today’s decision by the High Court in England and Wales, which finds that judges made ‘errors of law’ when they refused to renew Custody Time Limits in two cases where people accused of crimes didn’t have legal representation.

The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) had challenged two judges’ decisions in separate criminal cases, where the accused people did not have lawyers to represent them in court because of the ongoing barristers’ strike. The two judges had found that this was not a ‘good and sufficient cause’ to extend the custody time limit (CTL), which would have allowed the defendants to remain on remand. In recent weeks, other judges in Leicester, Isleworth and Oxford have made similar decisions.

The High Court did, however, acknowledge that if strike action were to continue, and criminal defendants continued to face difficulties finding a barrister to represent them in court well into November this year, the absence of legal representation would be unlikely to amount to a good and sufficient cause for extending CTLs.

Fair Trials’ Legal Director (UK and International), Bruno Min said:

“It is unjust to hold people awaiting trial in prison for extended periods of time because of failings within the criminal justice system.  But thousands of legally innocent people have been held in prison for over six months because of the long-standing backlog of criminal cases.

“Instead of challenging judges’ decisions to release people, the Government should be taking urgent steps to tackle the underlying causes of the crisis within the criminal justice in England and Wales. As well as resolving the investment issues raised by striking barristers, we need to structural solutions to reduce the backlog of cases, including reducing prosecutions for minor or non-violent offences, prioritising community sentences over prison sentences, and releasing people who have been held on remand awaiting trial for extended periods of time.”

The latest figures that Fair Trials received in response to a freedom of information (FOI request) show that:

  • Almost 1,800 people have been held on remand for longer than a year.
  • More than 500 people have been held longer than two years.
  • More than half of those held on remand for more than six months are held for non-violent offences.

The figures also showed that Black people still being disproportionately remanded more than white people, despite being less likely to be sent to prison and more likely to be acquitted at trial.