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28th Sep 2022

Defendants to be released from prison if Government fails to stop barristers’ strike

Jack Peat

Dark Knight Rises, anyone?

Prisoners awaiting delayed trials for violent and serious crimes could be released from prison unless the government resolves the barristers’ strike within the next two months, the High Court has ruled.

In developments that have a spooky likeness to the Batman film Dark Knight Rises, several judges have refused applications to extend custody time limits – which govern how long defendants can be held in prison before trial – on the basis that lengthy delays caused by court backlogs and the Criminal Bar Association’s industrial action are not a lawful reason to keep people in jail.

Dame Victoria Sharp KC, president of the King’s Bench Division, and Mr Justice Chamberlain found that trial days currently caused by the barristers’ strike can constitute a “good and sufficient cause” for extending custody time limits for short periods not above three months.

“In every case, judges should consider whether the public interests served initially by remanding the defendant in custody can now be served by stringent bail conditions. If so, this should be the preferred course,” their ruling added.

But it warned that following a months-long dispute over legal aid payments to defence barristers that escalated into an all-out strike in August, “this will not remain the position for long”.

“If the CBA action continues, there will shortly come a time when the absence of representation in the context of the current dispute can be considered chronic and routine,” the judges said.

“Once that stage is reached, it is likely that the absence of representation will no longer be capable of supplying a sufficient reason for extending custody time limits.”

In The Dark Knight Rises, supervillain Bane releases hundreds of prisoners from jail to wreak havoc on the streets.

We’re not saying it will come to that here, but the move didn’t work out so well for Gotham, just FYI!

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