Murder suspects set to be released from jail over barrister strike court delays

·3-min read
Barristers strike - Vuk Valcic/Zuma Press Wire/Shutterstock
Barristers strike - Vuk Valcic/Zuma Press Wire/Shutterstock

A quartet charged over the fatal stabbing of a 40-year-old man in his back garden are to become the first defendants accused of murder to be released from jail because of court delays from the barristers’ strike.

Justice Ian Pringle, Oxford’s most senior judge, on Wednesday refused to extend the amount of time the four can be kept inside after they reached the six-month remand limit.

They are alleged to have been involved in stabbing 40-year-old Keith Green to death in Banbury on a Sunday in February. Two of them also face allegations of possession of a “large bladed hunting-style knife”.

The move came amid growing fears that the ongoing strike by members of the Criminal Bar Association (CBA) will lead to more suspects being released after reaching the six-month time limit on their custody.

Judges take aim at ‘chronic’ underfunding

Judges are increasingly ruling against extending defendants’ time in custody beyond six months, with some openly criticising the Government’s “chronic” underfunding of the criminal justice system.

Prosecutors in the Banbury murder case had applied for the custody time limits to be extended because their trial could not go ahead earlier this month as a result of the barristers’ strike. They argued that the exceptional delay caused by the strike was a sufficient reason to keep them behind bars.

However, it was refused by Judge Pringle, who has the honorary title of Recorder of Oxford. He recognised that the Crown Prosecution Service had acted with “all due diligence and expedition” in making its application to extend the custody time limits.

‘Good and sufficient cause’

He told Vanessa Marshall, prosecuting: “This case turned purely on ‘good and sufficient cause’.” Previously, he has said in other cases that delays caused by the barristers’ strike have not amounted to “good and sufficient cause”.

A written ruling explaining his full reasons for refusing the application is due on Thursday. The four defendants cannot be identified after the judge imposed reporting restrictions on the case.

By law, a judge can extend custody time limits only if they are satisfied there are “good and sufficient” reasons to do so. Individuals may be remanded by the courts and held for up to 182 days without conviction, although a judge may extend the period during which someone can be held on remand.

Brandon Lewis - Wiktor Szymanowicz/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images
Brandon Lewis - Wiktor Szymanowicz/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

It came as Ministry of Justice (MoJ) officials began talks with the CBA on Wednesday to resolve the barristers’ five-month strike after a “constructive” meeting between Brandon Lewis, the Justice Secretary, and barristers’ leaders on Tuesday.

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

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

They are also demanding extra cash to pay for the rollout of video evidence in rape trials, or risk further court delays as lawyers quit taking on cases.

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.”

Last week, The Telegraph revealed that judge Keith Raynor cited the failure of the Government to adequately fund the courts for his decision to order the release on bail of an alleged county lines gang leader until his delayed trial for supplying drugs can be held. Others released include alleged arsonists and drug dealers.