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NEWS

UK Government admits extended Custody Time Limits disproportionately affect Black people

FT Admin - October 16, 2020 - Extended pre-trial, Discrimination, Pre-trial detention

The extension of Custody Time Limits (CTLs) may have a disproportionate impact on people who are Black, Asian or from other ethnic minorities, according to the UK Government’s own Equality Impact Statement published this week.

The statement recognises that defendants with protected characteristics[i], “may experience some disadvantage from a longer period of time held on remand.” In particular, the statement outlines a number of ways that people from Black and Minority Ethnic (BAME) backgrounds will be affected by extended Custody Time Limits.

Black, Mixed, and Chinese or Other ethnic groups are more likely to be held in pre-trial detention: “Over the last 5 years, defendants from Black, Mixed, and Chinese or Other ethnic groups consistently had a higher proportion of individuals remanded in custody at Crown Court compared to the White ethnic group. In 2019, 47% of Black defendants were remanded in custody during Crown Court proceedings compared to 38% of White defendants.”

Black defendants are more likely to be held on remand but less likely to receive a custodial sentence: “Despite Black defendants being more likely to be remanded in custody at Crown Court, they are less likely than White defendants to go on to receive an immediate custodial sentence at the conclusion of proceedings.”

Black defendants are more likely to opt for a trial by jury: “Not only are Black defendants disproportionately remanded in custody, but they are also more likely to elect for a trial by jury than White defendants which would place their case into the jurisdiction of the Crown Court (and therefore, potentially within scope of the policy if held on remand).” The government extended Custody Time Limits for cases in the Crown Court from 182 days to 238 days, which is significantly longer than for cases at the Magistrates Court, meaning that Black defendants awaiting trial in the Crown Court would be more likely to be in pre-trial detention for longer.

 Griff Ferris, Legal and Policy Officer at Fair Trials said:

“It’s shocking that the government was aware of the disproportionate impact extended Custody Time Limits would have on people who are Black and other ethnic minority groups, and yet they went ahead with it anyway.

“The government knew that its actions would directly lead to more Black people being held in custody for longer, despite being more likely to be released after a trial. Extending Custody Time Limits directly reinforces the structural inequality and discrimination that already exists in the criminal justice system.

“It’s unacceptable that these people are being made to suffer for the government’s own failure to properly fund the justice system and deal with the backlog of cases. The government must resource the justice system and release low-risk defendants awaiting trial.”

Delayed justice for all

At the end of September, temporary legislation came into force that extends the time that people can be held while waiting for their trial from 182 days to 238 days. The Government claimed that this was necessary to deal with the backlog of cases as a result of the pandemic. As Fair Trials pointed out at the time, delaying trials delays justice for all involved, including victims and witnesses as well as defendants. Responses to FOI requests made by Fair Trials, showed that the Government doesn’t actually know how many people are being held on remand for excessive periods of time.

[i] These protected characteristics are: Race, Sexual Orientation, Marriage/Civil Partnership, Gender (sex), Religion Belief, Gender Reassignment, Disability, Age, Pregnancy/Maternity.

If you are a journalist interested in this story, please call the media team on +44 (0) 7749 785 932 or email [email protected]

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