The Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has launched a legal challenge after several judges released suspects on bail because delays caused by the barristers’ strike meant they had exceeded their custody time limits.
The CPS has been granted the right to have a judicial review of at least three cases where judges rejected an application by a prosecutor to extend the custody of suspects beyond the limit.
In one case the Recorder of Bristol, Judge Peter Blair QC, refused to extend custody time limits and granted bail to a defendant, saying “the state has had many months to resolve the current dispute.”
Earlier this month the new Justice Secretary, Brandon Lewis, was urged to negotiate with the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) or risk a situation “where you have people on the streets who you would rather not have on the streets.”
Under the Custody Time Limits (Coronavirus) Amendment Regulations the custody time limit of 182 days for indictable-only offences like murder and rape was extended to 238 days.
But custody time limits can be extended beyond that by a judge if the defendant or a key witness is ill, or for “some other good and sufficient cause” and if the “prosecution have acted with all due diligence and expedition.”
Several judges have ruled the refusal of a barrister to represent his client because he or she is on strike is not “sufficient and good cause” to deny the defendant the right to be released from prison on bail.
Among those was Judge Peter Blair KC, the recorder of Bristol Crown Court, who referred to “chronic underfunding” of the criminal justice system and said, “The state has had many many months in which to resolve the current dispute over the requisite level of remuneration to pay in order to attract the services of barristers to act on behalf of people benefiting from Representation Orders.”
The CPS fears the precedent which has been set could lead to an increasing number of defendants, some of whom are facing extremely serious charges, being released on bail.
Judge in Oxford Grants Bail to 4 Murder Suspects
Earlier this week four people accused of murdering a 40-year-old man in the garden of his home in Oxfordshire were released on bail.
Prosecutor Vanessa Marshall KC asked to extend the custody time limits for the four, who have been in custody since February, after their trial was postponed this month because of the strike.
The Recorder of Oxford, Judge Ian Pringle KC, said there was not “good and sufficient cause” to extend the custody time limits.
Last week Pringle refused to extend the custody time limits for a defendant accused of sexual assault and released him on conditional bail.
In that case, the Oxford Mail reported, he said the prosecution may have “good grounds” for keeping the defendant in custody but he said, “They do not amount to a ‘good and sufficient cause’ so that a time limit introduced by the government for those defendants held on remand may be automatically extended because there has been a failure to solve a long-running dispute with those who represent legally aided defendants.”
The Justice Secretary, Brandon Lewis, met the chair of the CBA, Kirsty Brimelow KC, on Tuesday for a “meet and greet” but so far they have not begun formal negotiations.
A Ministry of Justice spokesman told the The Daily Telegraph: “Judges make bail decisions independently of government. We have proposed a 15 percent increase to criminal barristers’ fees due to come into force next week and are spending almost £0.5 billion to speed up justice as we recover from the pandemic.”
The Epoch Times reached out to the CPS for a response but they did not wish to comment, beyond confirming the judicial review was taking place.