Legislation to increase custody time limit will delay justice in the UK

Article by Fair Trials

Criminal justice watchdog, Fair Trials, has criticised new legislation to increase the custody time limit from six to eight months in the UK. Fair Trials’ Chief Executive Jago Russell said:

“The coronavirus pandemic has made an existing problem worse: the length of time that people have to wait for justice in the UK has been rising in recent years thanks to Legal Aid cuts and court closures.

“Keeping people who have not been convicted of a crime in prison for even longer will further delay justice for everyone involved ­- victims, witnesses and the accused.

“A better response would be to both fund our criminal justice system properly and reduce the numbers of prisoners being held in pre-trial detention.”

The proposals have been designed to address the backlog in cases awaiting trial, which has been exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic. There are thought to be 500,000 cases waiting to be heard in the magistrates and crown courts.

In July, Judge Keith Raynor refused a Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) request to delay an alleged drug dealer’s trial for a third time. At the time, Raynor warned “many defendants in custody will not be tried until well into 2021”.

The Commons Justice Committee has asked for submissions on how the delays to court cases could be addressed. In its submission, Fair Trials made the following key points.

  • The backlog of criminal cases in the UK is resulting in defendants spending longer in remand custody. The government should be focusing not just on easing pressure on courts but also on reducing pre-trial detention.
  • Court capacity challenges cannot be addressed through the increased use of remote proceedings alone. The use of telephone and live-link in criminal proceedings can undermine fair trial rights.
  • Rather than just seeking to increase court capacity, efforts should also be made to decrease the number of cases.

Fair Trials has tried to find out how many prisoners have had their Custody time limits extended due to the coronavirus pandemic through freedom of information requests. The Ministry of Justice have said that they don’t hold information on custody time limits and the Crown Prosecution Service have delayed responding twice. There have also been parliamentary questions but the government still failed to provide this information.