08:12, October 16 107 0 theguardian.com

2020-10-16 08:12:04
Extending custody time limits 'will disproportionately affect BAME people' MoJ told

Extending the amount of time unconvicted defendants can await trial in prison will have a disproportionate impact on people who are lack, Asian or from other ethnic minorities, according to official advice handed to ministers.

The coronavirus lockdown temporarily halted jury trials in March and despite the government creating “Nightingale” courts there are close to 500,000 cases yet to be heard in magistrates and crown courts.

The Ministry of Justice last month temporarily extended custody time limits for those in prison waiting for crown court trials from 182 to 238 days in an effort to get a grip on the backlogs.

An equality impact statement, drawn up by officials for the justice secretary, Robert Buckland, and quietly published earlier this month, warned there would be a disproportionate impact on black Asian and minority ethnic people.

It states that “defendants who are Black, Mixed, Chinese or Other ethnic groups, males, or children are more likely to be remanded in custody during any point in crown court proceedings”.

The statement continues: “Therefore, we consider that temporarily extending the CTL (custody time limit) in the crown court in respect of those awaiting a trial will also disproportionately impact on people with these protected characteristics.”

The statement concludes: “We recognise that defendants with the protected characteristics detailed above may experience some disadvantage from a longer period of time held on remand.”

Campaigners have urged the government to withdraw the regulations, arguing the move will increase the cost to the taxpayer of keeping defendants who are ultimately acquitted in prison for longer – and lead to victims waiting longer for an outcome.

Statistics from the MoJshow that in 2019 nearly one in 10 people – around 3,000 defendants – was acquitted in the crown court after spending time on remand.

Griff Ferris, the legal and policy officer at Fair Trials, said: “It’s shocking that the government was aware of the disproportionate impact extended custody time limits would have on people who are black and other ethnic minority group, and yet they went ahead with it anyway.

“The government knew that its actions would directly lead to more black people being held in custody for longer, despite being more likely to be released after a trial. Extending custody time limits directly reinforces the structural inequality and discrimination that already exists in the criminal justice system.”

The MoJ has been approached for comment.