Hundreds of people being held on remand for years before standing trial

·3-min read

Hundreds of people across the UK are spending years in prison before even standing trial, Sky News can reveal.

The numbers are only rising as the justice system struggles to cope with a large backlog of court cases.

People accused of crimes, but refused bail, are placed on remand - meaning they go to prison until their trial.

This can be for a variety of reasons, but often because a judge considers them dangerous, or that they may be a flight risk.

The maximum amount of time that a person should be kept on remand is six months.

But data released to Sky News under Freedom of Information laws shows that 1,244 people have currently spent more than one year on remand.

A total of 219 people have spent more than two years in prison and the number waiting three years or more is 314.

Since last year, there has been a 12% increase in the number of people spending more than two years on remand.

They are people like Louise Feeney's partner, William. Accused of drugs charges, which he denies, William suffers from cancer.

He recently had major surgery, but had to do so in custody. By the time he stands trial in 2023, he will have spent more than two years behind bars.

Louise told us: "I get good days and bad days. It's like living with grief, we're just in limbo all the time. It's just devastating. The kids… two birthdays have been missed.

"Death is easier to deal with than remand. It feels like a prison sentence without a trial."

The majority of people on remand, about two-thirds, have not yet stood trial.

The remainder are awaiting sentencing. Sky News has been told of one case of a man who will have spent three and a half years in prison before he is finally sentenced.

And Ministry of Justice statistics show that around one in five people on remand are not subsequently given a prison sentence.

Around one in 10 are acquitted completely, raising the possibility that growing numbers of innocent people are spending years in prison for crimes they did not commit.

Penelope Gibbs, director of the charity Transform Justice, said: "I'm afraid the situation is getting worse every day.

"And that's partly because we now have a barrister strike. We are about to have a strike of crucial court staff, legal advisors, and we also have the problem of not enough lawyers and not enough judges and not enough courtrooms.

"There are so many things which need to be done. For a start we should be much more judicial about using remand this pretrial detention system."

Judges have the power to extend time limits for remand beyond the six-month maximum.

But delays to court cases, made significantly worse by the closure of courtrooms during the pandemic, appear to be making this more common.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice said: "Decisions on bail applications are made by independent judges who ensure the public are protected. They have been prioritising remand cases following the unprecedented impact of the pandemic."

The backlog of court cases currently stands at nearly 59,000. That is down from the post-pandemic peak of 61,000, but the numbers are rising again.

Barristers are now taking strike action in protest against pay and working conditions, as they say the system is struggling to cope.

The government warns that strike action will only increase the delays and make problems worse.