DELAYS caused by the barrister ‘strike’ could have been forseen for a 'long time', a judge said as he detailed why he allowed four alleged murderers to be released on bail.
Earlier this week, Recorder of Oxford Judge Ian Pringle KC refused an application by the Crown Prosecution Service to extend the custody time limits keeping the quartet on remand until their trial.
That trial of the four, who are accused of involvement in the fatal stabbing of Keith Green in Banbury on February 13, had already been delayed by the Criminal Bar Association’s strike over the rates paid for Legal Aid-funded cases.
Now, in a written judgement published this afternoon, the senior circuit judge has explained why he refused to extend the custody time limits.
Judge Pringle said he agreed with the prosecution that it was ‘not for this court or, indeed, any court to start judging the merits of the dispute between the independent criminal bar and the Ministry of Justice’.
He rehearsed the history of the Criminal Bar Association's industrial action, which has escalated since the spring, when its members first voted to refuse Legal Aid cases ‘returned’ by busier colleagues, to now refusing to attend court for the publicly-funded cases.
The judge said: “In my view, the current situation in the criminal courts in this country has been coming for a very considerable period of time and no evidence has been put before me to alter that view.”
And he rejected the prosecution’s argument that the custody time limits should be extended until the High Court had reviewed other judges’ decisions in similar cases, with a hearing expected to take place on Monday. To do so, he said, would not amount to a ‘good and sufficient cause’ to extend the custody limits.
The judge was also asked to consider that there was a difference between cases of murder and ones involving less serious allegations.
Dismissing the argument, Judge Pringle said it had no support in the laws on custody time limits. And he added: “I cannot accept that in a case where a person is charged with murder and for whom a custody time limit is in place the need for a careful approach as to the question as to whether a 'good and sufficient cause' is made out somehow disappears.”
Judge Pringle has so far refused to extend the custody time limits in three cases where the trials have been delayed as a result of the barrister strike.
Last night, a Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said: “Judges make bail decisions independently of government. We have proposed a 15 per cent increase to criminal barristers’ fees due to come into force next week and are spending almost half-a-billion pounds to speed up justice as we recover from the pandemic.”
The CBA has called on the government to raise Legal Aid rates by 25 per cent. The association has also urged ministers to 'backdate' any increase, so it covers cases already in the courts system. As barristers are typically only paid at the conclusion of a case, it could be months or years before they see the benefit of any changes introduced at the end of this month.
This story was written by Tom Seaward. He joined the team in 2021 as Oxfordshire's court and crime reporter.
To get in touch with him email: Tom.Seaward@newsquest.co.uk
Follow him on Twitter: @t_seaward