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Unconvicted defendants could face longer time awaiting trial

Crime / Tue 8th Sep 2020 at 08:49am

UNCONVICTED defendants awaiting trial in prison face longer stints behind bars, as ministers plan to increase custody time limits to ease the pressure of a rising backlog of court cases, the Guardian understands.

The coronavirus lockdown temporarily halted jury trials in March and despite the government creating “nightingale” courts there are more than 500,000 cases yet to be heard in magistrates and crown courts, an increase of about 100,000 on pre-pandemic levels.

In July a crown court judge ordered that a suspected drug dealer be released from prison because the shortage of courtrooms meant his trial was unlikely to be heard until next year.

The Guardian understands the custody time limit is to be increased from six months to eight months through secondary legislation to be laid on Monday. Prosecutors are able to apply for custody time limits to be extended but it is in a judge’s power to refuse an application.

David Lammy, the shadow justice secretary, said: “Rather than deal with the backlog they helped create through a decade of cuts and court closures, the government has been forced to increase the amount of time unconvicted defendants spend locked up. As a result, justice will be further delayed for the victims of crime, as well as defendants.

“This is the result of the government’s incompetence and complete failure to address the crisis in our courts that Labour has been warning about for months.”

The move will raise questions about the impact on prisoner numbers. The MoJ has been reducing the number of inmates held in jail as part of its approach to managing coronavirus across the estate. The total number of prisoners held in England and Wales is about 4,000 lower than in March. But any move to increase the amount of time prisoners are held on remand is likely to slow down the rate at which the total prison estate is reducing.

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1 Comment for Unconvicted defendants could face longer time awaiting trial:

Dagenham Dave
2020-09-08 13:13:00

The problem for remand prisoners is not knowing when one will go to trial until a few weeks beforehand. This uncertainty presents itself to these prisoners as an open ended anxiety. Further delays makes matters worse. This anxiety may eventually lead to self harm and suicide. In 1989, during my short remand in HMP Chelmsford, I witnessed amid the morning slopout a fellow remand prisoner hanging lifeless from the cell bars. This image lives with me even now 31 years later. I also witnessed the aftermath of another prisoner who slashed his wrists following a 'Dear John' letter from his girlfriend. Furthermore, I have seen hardened criminals in floods of tears after returning from visiting hour. What the public should understand is that the punishment is being removed from society. One does not need to make it any more unpleasant on the inside. Justice should be dispensed in a timely manner without undue delay. Remand prisoners did not create Covid-19 and should not be exposed to the greater risks associated with prisons any longer than absolutely necessary. The Tory government needs to spend the money to clear the backlog of cases to ensure most cases are brought to trial within 6 months, subject to more complex cases taking longer by a further six months.

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