Judges who released suspects from custody during barristers’ strike face challenge from CPS

·3-min read
Criminal barristers strike outside the Supreme Court - Vuk Valcic/Zuma Press
Criminal barristers strike outside the Supreme Court - Vuk Valcic/Zuma Press

Judges who have released suspects from jail during the barristers strike face a legal challenge next week from the Crown Prosecution Service.

The CPS has secured a judicial review of at least three cases where judges have refused to back prosecutors’ applications to extend the custody of suspects beyond their six-month time limit.

It is seeking to overturn the rulings by the judges who have argued that the refusal of a barrister to represent his client because of the strike is not “sufficient and good cause” to deny a defendant the right to be released from prison on bail.

They include Peter Blair KC, the recorder at Bristol, who blamed “chronic underfunding” of the criminal justice system when he refused to keep a defendant in jail.

“The state has had many many months in which to resolve the current dispute over the requisite level of remuneration to pay in order to attract the services of barristers to act on behalf of people benefiting from Representation Orders,” he ruled.

“On the one hand the state demands trials to commence within an applicable custody time limit, and on the other it holds the purse strings for remunerating those who are required under our rule of law to be provided with advocacy services.

'Long-term underfunding'

“In my view today’s predicament arises precisely because of the chronic and predictable consequences of long-term underfunding. The unavailability of representation for the defendant today has arisen because of a persistent and predictable background feature of publicly funded criminal litigation.

“I am not at all persuaded, therefore, that there is a ‘good and sufficient cause’ to extend the custody time limits in the particular circumstances of this case.”

The challenge by the CPS comes amid fears that the rulings earlier this month by the judges could set a precedent for further releases.

They have already been followed by similar judgements including the release of a suspected county lines gang leader, an alleged drug dealer and four people accused of murder in a case where a 40-year-old man was stabbed to death in his back garden.

Ministry of Justice officials havr opened “conversations” with the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) to try and resolve the barristers’ five-month strike after a “constructive” meeting between Brandon Lewis, the Justice Secretary, and barristers’ leaders on Tuesday.

Want fees backdated

CBA members overwhelmingly rejected the Government’s 15 per cent fee rise from the end of September.

They want the fees backdated to cover backlogged cases which ministers estimate would cost up to £60 million extra and would have to be diverted from elsewhere in the MoJ budget.

An MoJ spokesman 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.”