Thousands of people are held in prison for longer than their legal time limit while awaiting their trial, according to a legal charity. Fair Trials, through Freedom of Information requests, has revealed that as of December 2020, 3,608 people had been held for longer six months and 2,551 people had been held for longer than eight months awaiting their trial.
In September 2020, the UK Government extended the custody time limits, the amount of time that someone can be held on remand, from six to eight months. However, no one held for longer than six months by December 2020 fell under the new regime.
According to Fair Trials, almost one third of the entire remand population in the UK has been held longer than their legal time limit as they await trial. ‘Holding unconvicted people in prison awaiting trial for excessive periods of time undermines our entire justice system,’ commented Griff Ferris, Fair Trial’s legal and policy officer. ‘It is deeply unjust that people on remand feel forced to plead guilty because they’re being held in inhumane prison conditions for unreasonable periods of time.’
People were suffering ‘because of the government’s insistence on putting more and more people in prison, and repeated and systematic failures to get trials heard in time’. ‘The government must reverse the extension of time limits on pre-trial custody immediately, and implement structural solutions to this crisis aimed at releasing more people, rather than trying find more ways to put more people into prison, which is what it’s trying to do with the Policing Bill,’ he added.
The charity reports that prisoners are pleading guilty to avoid lengthy pre-trial detention. One defendant reported to Fair Trials that they pleaded guilty so they didn’t have to stay in prison ‘until 2022’ awaiting a trial.
Another claimed to have been on remand since October 2019, accused of drug offences and how they were held for 23 hours a day in their cell during the pandemic. There had also been reports of prisoners being prevented from showering or exercising for weeks. As Fair Trial point out, many of those held in remand may be innocent.
Statistics show that the remand population is at its highest levels in six years, with 12,274 people held on remand, a 22% increase since the start of the pandemic in March 2020.
There is also evidence to suggest that there is a significant racial disparity among individuals held on remand. In 2019, one in five people on remand were Black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME). Moreover, since 2015, BAME people have consistently made up at least 20% of the individuals remanded in custody every year—clearly a disproportionate amount.