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NEWS

Fair Trials submits evidence to UK Parliament on coronavirus' impact on prison, probation and court systems

FairTrialsAdmin - August 10, 2020

 

The UK Parliament Justice Committee undertook an inquiry into the impact of COVID-19 on the criminal justice system in May 2020. Fair Trials submitted evidence to the Justice Committee in July 2020, and four reports were published in late July and early August: on the probation system, prisons, the courts and the legal profession.

 

Summary of Fair Trials’ evidence

 

1- The COVID-19 pandemic, and responses to it, have had an unprecedented impact on criminal justice in the UK. Suspects and defendants, especially those in detention or custody, have found themselves further isolated as their access to legal advice and other essential support, has been severely restricted. Courts have been conducting more hearings remotely, including via video-link or telephone hearings, but evidence shows that these measures have a negative impact on the right to a fair trial, particularly on defence rights, and they disproportionately result in custodial sentences. Defendants are also facing prolonged pre-trial detention as custody time limits are extended. 

 

2- Cases of COVID-19 have been widespread in prisons and immigration detention centres, while detainees have languished in poor conditions, often amounting to solitary confinement. Detained people are reliant on the state for their health and safety, and it is not possible to follow the government’s advice on COVID-19 in prison and immigration detention settings. Despite setting a clear and necessary target to reduce the prison population, the government has comprehensively failed to meet that target. 

 

3- In addition, Fair Trials’ believes that there are such significant and serious issues with disproportionate policing and fines under coronavirus laws and regulations, and unlawful prosecutions under those laws, that, while not directly within the scope of this inquiry, warrant urgent attention from the Justice Committee.  

 

4- Not only has COVID-19 exacerbated pre-existing issues in the criminal justice system and resulted in long-lasting repercussions, but the official and unofficial responses by government and those in charge of elements of the criminal justice system have had, and will continue to have a significant impact on suspects, defendants and detainees. These changes, which include significant modifications to criminal procedure, need to be properly scrutinised to ensure that people’s rights are not infringed or forgotten, particularly those in custody or detention. This is important not just because of the possibility of a COVID-19 ‘second wave’, but also the possibility that some of these temporary and ‘emergency’ changes may continue beyond their original purpose and even become permanent.  

 

Read the full report.

If you are a journalist interested in this story, please telephone Fair Trials’ press department on +44 (0) 20 7822 2370 or +32 (0) 2 360 04 71.

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