Fair Trials supports release of people from extended pre-trial detention and judge refusals to extend Custody Time Limits

Article by Fair Trials

Fair Trials has responded to recent cases where judges have released people on remand after they have been held for extended periods without trial.

In the last few weeks, several judges have refused to extend the Custody Time Limits (CTLs) of people whose court cases are being delayed, citing the government’s lack of action to address the barrister’s strike. However, the ‘backlog’ of cases awaiting trial has been a persistent issue in England and Wales since even before the Covid-19 pandemic.

Judges in Leicester, Isleworth, Bristol and Oxford have all made similar rulings requiring the release of people held on remand, stating that the barristers strike was not a ‘good and sufficient cause’ to hold people in prison on remand awaiting their trial for longer than the required six-month Custody Time Limit. In a ruling in Oxford on 22 September 2022, R v MM & Others, HH Judge Pringle KC said:

“In my view, the current situation in the criminal courts in this country has been coming for a very considerable period of time and no evidence has been put before me to alter that view.”

In Isleworth Crown Court, HHJ Martin Edmunds KC, when refusing to extend a Custody Time Limit, said:

“I conclude that it appears that we are now faced with a systemic failure and there is no material before me to displace that appearance.”

Another judgment on 8 September 2022 by HHJ Keith Raynor, in R v Donnell Magezi at Leicester Crown Court, references the number of people held on remand beyond six months, one year, and two years – figures published following parliamentary pressure from Fair Trials.

Fair Trials’ Senior Legal and Policy officer, Griff Ferris said:

“The criminal justice system in England and Wales is in such a state that it cannot hold trials within a reasonable time; it’s completely unjust to hold people in prison awaiting their trial because of this failing. As Fair Trials has repeatedly said, people held on remand for extended periods must be released until a fair trial can take place.

“People are presumed innocent until proven guilty. They cannot just be held in prison indefinitely, particularly when delays are due to the failings in the system that the Government has long been warned about.

“The Government needs to take immediate steps to secure the release of people on remand for excessive lengths of time, and to resolve the barristers’ strike. We also need structural solutions to this systemic failure, such as reducing prosecutions for minor or non-violent offences, prioritising community sentences over prison sentences, as well as releasing people have been held on remand awaiting trial for extended periods.”

CTLs are the time limit set out in legislation that someone can be held in prison while waiting for a trial. The current CTL is six months but figures that Fair Trials received in response to a freedom of information (FOI request) show that these are being routinely extended even for people accused of non-violent offences:

  • 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.