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Under emergency provisions to allow the criminal justice system to return to normal and protect members of the public a temporary order will be laid next week to extend the custody time limit by 56 days from 182 days to 238 days.
The move is part of a package of a wider £80 million recovery plan to help courts deal with the backlog of cases caused by lockdown and follows the unveiling of so-called nightingale courts last month.
The Lord Chancellor, Robert Buckland, himself a veteran QC who has championed the measures in cabinet, said: “Throughout the pandemic this government has taken the necessary steps to protect the public while ensuring that justice continues to be delivered.
“This temporary extension to custody time limits will keep victims and the public safe, and we should not apologise for making that our priority.
“At the same time, the measures I have announced today will get the criminal courts system back to where it needs to be – reducing delays and delivering speedier justice for all.”
In welcoming the recovery plan, the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, The Lord Burnett of Maldon said: “The pandemic has had an adverse impact on the timeliness of the criminal justice system, with many trials necessarily delayed.
“This plan is an important document which gives a clear path towards recovery as the judges and magistrates, in partnership with HM Courts Service, the Ministry of Justice and many others, strive to ensure that cases are heard as soon as possible in the public interest and the interests of all those involved in the criminal process.”
The move aims to protect victims and keep dangerous criminals of our streets – particularly in cases where there is a risk that defendants may abscond or commit offences if released on bail.
It addresses the delays to jury trials that have been caused by the pandemic – despite the world-leading efforts of judiciary, court staff and lawyers to keep justice moving since March.
In March, almost half of all courts were closed and jury trials were paused to minimise social interaction between court users. Since then, court staff, legal professionals, and the judiciary have collaborated to prioritise cases and keep the justice system running throughout the pandemic – with up to 90 percent of all court buildings now open.
Under the recovery plan, a range of measures will be deployed to meet this unprecedented challenge including employing 1,600 new staff to support the recovery; setting up eight more temporary ‘Nightingale Courts’; a further rollout of technology; and changes to the physical set-up of courtrooms to minimise risk, such as the introduction of plexiglass barriers.
The legislation is expected to come into force on September 28 and will apply to anyone who is arrested and remanded for an offence deemed serious enough for a Crown Court trial after that date.
The new custody time limits will remain in place for nine months. After which, current time lengths will resume.
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