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Judges wrong to release defendants on bail due to lawyers’ strike, High Court rules | Lawyers


Judges were wrong to refuse to extend the period that defendants can be kept in jail awaiting trial in cases delayed by criminal barristers’ strike, the High Court has ruled.

He has accepted a challenge by the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) to decisions by judges at Bristol and Manchester Crown Courts not to extend the period that three men in two cases could be held on remand at the beyond the six-month limit.

In the two cases reviewed, the judges determined that the absence of defense counsel due to the strike over legal aid fees was not sufficient cause to keep the defendants in jail any longer.

Amid a growing number of cases in which defendants have been released on bail due to a lack of counsel since industrial action escalated into an indefinite walkout from September 5, the chief of the Crown Prosecution Service hoped to set a marker for Crown Court judges by challenging the two decisions.

Accepting the arguments of Tom Little KC on behalf of the DPP, Dame Victoria Sharp and Judge Chamberlain said the lack of a lawyer was unforeseeable rather than ‘chronic or routine’ and was therefore good and sufficient reason for extending custody periods (CTL) .

However, in a written judgment released on Wednesday, they clarified that such a position was only tentative.

They said that in the last week of November, in which three months would have passed since the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) announced its indefinite walkout, “the lack of legal representation in the context of the CBA’s action is unlikely to provide sufficient cause to extend time in custody.

Sharp and Chamberlain accepted the difficulties of resolving CTL extension claims in the current situation, but said Judge Peter Blair KC, sitting at Bristol Crown Court “erred in awarding the current unavailability from representation to “long-term underfunding”. [of the criminal justice system]”.

They ruled Manchester District Court Judge Tina Landale also erred in law, while noting she made no reference to long-term underfunding.

In a general warning to Crown Court judges, they said: ‘It is neither necessary nor appropriate for judges to assign blame for the current dispute between the CBA and the MoJ (Ministry of Justice) to one side or the other, or to comment on its underlying causes.”

Although they admitted that the judges at Bristol and Manchester Crown Courts had erred in law, they said that once the CTLs expired there was no power to extend them and therefore denied the DPP’s request to overturn the decisions.

The two men charged with violent offenses at Manchester Crown Court have been released on bail, but the Bristol defendant remains in jail as he was remanded to two counts to which he pleaded guilty , out of the five of which he is accused.

Although Sharp and Chamberlain emphasized that whether an adjournment was sufficient cause to extend the length of remand would be specific to each case, their decision provided guidance to judges increasingly faced with decisions about the release or not of innocent defendants until proven otherwise but potentially dangerous. as the industrial action continued.

Defendants freed on bail when the CTLs expired since the start of the indefinite strike included four murder defendants in a case at Oxford Crown Court, a man to be tried in the same court for sexual assault as well as people charged with arson and robbery.

theguardian Gt

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