A judge has refused twice to extend custody time limits for defendants and claimed he was put under ‘improper and undue influence’ to keep a defendant in custody.
Judge Raynor heard a case sitting at Woolwich Crown Court regarding a teenage defendant, Tesfa Young-Williams’ who was charged with serious drug offences. He refused to extend the amount of time Young-Williams was held in custody.
In a report by the BBC, it was said that Young-Williams was held in custody 139 days beyond the custody time limit (CTL). In a 24-page detailed judgement, Judge Raynor set out in great length the reasons, mainly indicating the government’s response to the pandemic being wholly inadequate.
The Ministry of Justice has pledged an £80m criminal court recovery plan which promises more ‘nightingale courts’ and an increase in court staff. The government have also announced that it will extend CTLs from six to eight months from the end of September 2020. Judge Raynor believes these measures are slow, inadequately funded and disproportionate.
Judge Raynor made his communications with Woolwich Crown Court’s Judge Christopher Kinch QC public which took place just before Young-Williams’ hearing. Judge Kinch asked Judge Raynor ‘how he was going to handle the case’ and asked him to review the Government’s recovery plan. Following this, Judge Raynor said that he felt pressure to extend the CTL and also felt that he was being subjected to ‘improper and undue influence’ by Judge Kinch. Judge Raynor was due to hear a similar remand case, that will likely have had the same concerns of disproportionate custody time limits for defendants who were awaiting trial. He was told that he would not be sitting in that hearing and that a high court judge was to be appointed instead.
Judge Raynor has been critical of the growing backlog of criminal trials. According to the BBC, the backlog in Crown Court cases had gone from 6,000 to 43,000 since covid restrictions had been enforced in March 2020.
Amanda Pinto QC, chair of the Bar Council, said that ‘no judge should ever be subject to political or any other pressure to take a particular decision…especially when someone’s liberty is at stake’.