UK: Government ends custody time limit extension in England and Wales
The Government has confirmed that the extension of Custody Time Limits (CTLs) from six to eight months will end this month, as the temporary extension will not be further renewed. In a response to a parliamentary question by the Shadow Minister for Courts and Sentencing, Alex Cunningham, the Ministry for Justice has confirmed that anyone who is remanded into custody after 28 June will have a CTL of six months.
However, thousands of people are still being held in prison awaiting trial beyond the legal time limit. Earlier this year, Fair Trials uncovered that as of December 2020, 3,608 people had been held for six months or longer, and 2,551 people have been held for eight months or longer. This amounted to almost a third of the people who are being held on remand waiting for their trial at the time.
Griff Ferris, Legal and Policy Officer said:
We welcome the reduction of the custody time limit to six months, but thousands of people are still being held in prison awaiting trial for even longer than 8 months, beyond this limit. People remanded in custody before the current law expires could be held until February 2022.
Instead of the government taking necessary action to deal with the backlog of tens of thousands of cases, custody time limits are being routinely extended, and there are multiple reports that trials are being listed for as late as 2023. This unacceptably delays justice for defendants and victims and completely undermines what little faith is left in the system.
The Government needs to take urgent action to address the long-standing structural problems behind court delays, including releasing more people who are waiting for trials.
Court delays in England and Wales
The backlog of cases waiting to be heard in the Crown Court had reached almost 60,000 in April 2021, growing at a rate of 1,000 cases a month.
CTLs are the time limit set out in legislation that someone can be held in prison while waiting for a trial. In September 2020, the Government extended CTLs from six to eight months.
One lawyer told us:
Quite frankly, [custody time limits] may as well not exist. They are extended as a matter of routine in our local courts and any argument against extending them is met with incredulity that one has dared advance an argument.
According to the Government s Equality Impact Statement, the extension of CTLs risked having a disproportionate impact on people who are Black, Asian or from other ethnic minorities, as they were disproportionately remanded in custody, despite being more likely not to receive a custodial sentence at trial. The statement recognised that defendants with protected characteristics may experience some disadvantage from a longer period of time held on remand.
 Section 22 of the Prosecution of Offences Act 1985, Prosecution of Offences (CTL) Regulations 1987, and the Criminal Procedure Rules (October 2015). https://www.cps.gov.uk/legal-guidance/custody-time-limits-including-coronavirus-protocol
 Prosecution of Offences (Custody Time Limits) (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations 2020. https://www.legislation.gov.uk/uksi/2020/953/contents/made