Subscribe to the View from Westminster email newsletter to receive professional insights directly to your email.
Receive our complimentary email newsletter, “View from Westminster.”
The Ministry of Justice has attributed a data mistake for the release of statistics indicating that 150 individuals had been incarcerated for over five years while awaiting trial.
The current number of people awaiting trial is at its peak in the past 50 years, and is a significant cause of overcrowding in prisons. In just four years, the number of inmates on remand has increased from 9,600 to 16,200 due to a backlog in court cases. In the previous year, 35% of suicides in prisons were committed by individuals on remand.
However, professionals have consistently cautioned about the inadequate amount of government information regarding this matter. Although judges are obligated to authorize an extension every six months, it has not been clear how much time individuals are being held in jail before their trial – as last-minute court delays have become more common, leading to hearings being postponed for several months.
Given this context, the non-profit organization Fair Trials used freedom of information laws to obtain internal government data, which was then shared with The Independent in September. The data indicated that as of December 31st, there were at least 150 male suspects who had been held in custody for 60 months or longer, with 50 of them being Black individuals.
The Ministry of Justice responded to criticism of their numbers, which were described as “extraordinary” and “Kafkaesque” by experts. They explained that the cases with the longest wait times were typically those involving complicated fraud or trials with many defendants, which naturally require more time to prosecute.
However, The Independent has been informed that the data was simply an effort by authorities to approximate the duration of time individuals are held in custody before a trial, and should not have been released by the government without clear disclaimers.
The information has been clarified to include instances where a prisoner was held for two distinct time periods instead of one continuous period, and when a prisoner was already in custody for a previous conviction and was awaiting trial for a different offense.
According to a representative from the Ministry of Justice, there are currently no individuals being held in custody without a conviction for longer than five years.
They stated: “The Freedom of Information release utilized by The Independent clearly stated that the data may have errors since it is derived from administrative systems, which are not always completely accurate and current.”
This statement does not accurately represent the comprehensive data we have on the criminal justice system. Our data allows us to effectively run the system and is now more detailed than ever before.
When requested for a revised explanation of the duration of time that individuals are kept in custody before trial, the Ministry of Justice referred to a statement made by Conservative Lord Bellamy on 26 September, which stated that they are currently reviewing how this time is calculated and will provide more information at a later time.
Emma Snell, a senior legal fellow at the charity Justice, expressed concern about the government’s inability to determine the duration of time individuals are being held on remand. Last week, evidence of widespread deficiencies in court decision-making regarding remanding or bailing suspects was uncovered by Justice.
Ms. Snell stated that being incarcerated for an extended period of time before a trial can have lasting negative effects, such as strained relationships, loss of housing and employment, and the inability to receive rehabilitation while being held in inadequate cells. She also emphasized the importance of having accurate public data in order to make informed decisions about people’s freedom.
There have been frequent discussions about the insufficient government data in the criminal justice system.
Tana Adkin KC, chair of the Criminal Bar Association told The Independent: “Ministry of Justice data hasn’t hitherto allowed the government to plan ahead on provision of prison places, courts, court staff, judges and barristers to keep the criminal justice system operating efficiently.
For many years, inadequate planning and funding have failed to provide proper support for witnesses, crime victims, and defendants. As a result, data gathering and goal-setting are essentially useless for defendants and complainants due to insufficient funding within the system.
In response to pressure from members of parliament in the justice committee, the Ministry of Justice has committed to setting aside specific funds to speed up the process of fulfilling their promises to enhance data. They have allocated £3 million for data improvement in the current year and plan to increase funding until 2025.