Three leading national organisations with expertise in justice have urged the government to withdraw regulations extending custody time limits in the crown court, warning that the changes will make matters worse for victims of crime and pile more pressure on the prison system.
The Howard League for Penal Reform, Just for Kids Law and Liberty have written a joint letter to the Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor, Robert Buckland, stating they have “serious concerns as to the lawfulness” of the regulations, which will extend by two months the maximum length of time that a person can be held in prison on remand.
Cases are already taking years to get to court, but the changes “attempt to deal with delays by permitting, even facilitating, further delay”, the letter states, “which is not good for victims, witnesses, people remanded to prison or prisons that have to hold people on remand during the ongoing pandemic”.
The Howard League, Just for Kids Law and Liberty state that it is “difficult to see” why the amendment is being introduced without a full impact assessment, given that it could mean people spending almost eight months in prison on remand and victims waiting longer to know the outcome of cases. The changes will have a disproportionate effect on the Black and minority ethnic population, the letter adds, and particularly children.
Many people spend time in prison on remand only to be either acquitted or given a non-custodial sentence. In 2019, some 3,000 people were acquitted in the crown court having spent time in prison on remand. Under the new regulations, innocent people will be held in prison for even longer.
If the regulations are not withdrawn and changes made, the three organisations ask the government to first conduct the relevant impact assessments and consult with relevant stakeholders, including the Children’s Commissioner and victims’ organisations.
Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “Extending custody time limits is bad for everyone – for defendants, for the courts and for the prisons, but particularly for victims of crime who, after experiencing terrible trauma, will have to wait even longer to see their cases come to trial.
“Dealing with a pandemic is no excuse for government to make hasty policy decisions, particularly without due regard to the consequences.”
Enver Solomon, of Just for Kids Law, said: “The new regulations will leave hundreds of vulnerable children languishing for longer in unsafe jails, sweeping them further into a powerful current of crime with little hope of escape.
“We should be giving children routes to better outcomes instead of keeping them locked up, which is simply a dead end for them.”
Lana Adamou, Liberty lawyer, said: “This announcement is a blow to British justice. Delaying trials won’t solve the deep-seated problems and delays in our courts, it will just move justice further out of reach. Meanwhile there has been no consideration for the discriminatory impact this will have, for example on women and children, and in particular on young black men.
“What’s even more concerning is that this is just the latest Government policy to be passed into law without Parliamentary scrutiny. We have warned time and again that times of crisis always create the conditions for our rights to be stripped away like this. It is more important than ever that we resist Government attempts to bypass democracy.”
Notes to editors
- The Howard League for Penal Reform is the oldest penal reform charity in the world. It is a national charity working for less crime, safer communities and fewer people in prison.
- Just for Kids Law is a UK charity that works with and for children and young people to hold those with power to account and fight for wider reform by providing legal representation and advice, direct advocacy and support, and campaigning to ensure children and young people in the UK have their legal rights and entitlements respected and promoted and their voices heard and valued.
- The letter to Robert Buckland can be found on the Howard League website at: https://howardleague.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/09/Letter-Re-CTLs-16.09.20.pdf
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Howard League for Penal Reform
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Just for Kids Law
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