Unconvicted defendants to face longer periods behind bars

Unconvicted defendants to face longer periods behind bars

The disruption Covid-19 has caused to the Criminal Justice System means many defendants now face longer periods on remand in prison whilst awaiting trial.

During the pandemic, half of all courts in England and Wales closed to minimise social interaction and jury trials have only just recommenced. This has caused a major backlog with over 500,000 cases yet to be heard in the Magistrates and Crown Courts.

In order to ease the backlog, temporary legislation has been passed so that many remanded defendants (those imprisoned pre-conviction) can be held for up to 238 days before their trial. This has increased considerably from the usual ‘Custody Time Limit’ of 182 days.

The Lord Chancellor also announced a plan backed by £80m of funding to boost capacity across criminal courts which include:

  • Employing more staff to 1,600
  • Proving safety screens to separate jury members
  • Using video technology where appropriate
  • Increasing the number of hours the court buildings can be used for trials
  • Increase in the temporary ‘Nightingale’ Courts to a total of 18

Some believe the change in the Custody Time Limit will protect victims and keep dangerous criminals off the street. However Shadow Justice Secretary David Lammy has said: “Rather than deal with the backlog they helped create…the government has been forced to increase the amount of time unconvicted defendants spend locked up. As a result, justice will further be delayed for the victims of the crime, as well as defendants.”

The new legislation, which will last nine months, is due to come into force on 28th September 2020 and will apply to anyone who is arrested and remanded for an offence deemed serious enough for a Crown Court trial.

If you or a family member face a criminal charge or are remanded into custody, please contact a member of the Crime and Regulatory team here in order to receive free telephone advice.  Our specialist team of criminal defence lawyers can assist with applications for bail or liaising with court staff to request proximate listings.