Thursday 20 March 2014

Custody Time Limits

 Custody Time Limits (CTL) are an important feature of criminal procedure.  They arise under the Prosecution of Offences Act 1985 section 22 and Regulations have been made under powers granted by that Act - Prosecution of Offences (Custody Time Limits) Regulations 1987 (as amended)

The essential aim of the time limits is the obvious one of preventing those defendants, who have not been granted bail,  being held in custody for excessive periods of time prior to trial.  Difficulties can arise prior to trial and it is possible for the prosecution to apply to the court for an extension of the time limits.  Such applications are scrutinised rigorously by the judges.  In all instances, the prosecution must have acted with 'all due diligence and expedition' - see section 22(3).

Normally, the Bar has a practice as to how so-called "returned briefs" are handled.  Where a barrister returns a brief because he is unable to attend court at a particular date, another barrister will accept the brief.  However, due to the criminal legal aid dispute between the Bar and the Secretary of State for Justice, barristers are not accepting returned briefs.

In an on-going Crown Court case in Manchester, the prosecution applied for an extension of custody time limits in relation to two defendants charged with arson with intent to endanger life.  A barrister representing one of the defendants was unable to attend court on the day of trial and no other barrister had been found to take the brief. 

Mr Justice Turner
- (Presiding Judge Northern Circuit) - allowed the application and extended the time limits for both defendants to 10th April - see (Judgment via Crimeline).  The judgment merits a detailed reading and, in particular, the note of caution he struck just prior to his concluding paragraph.  Clearly, if the no returns policy continues, further difficult issues are going to arise.

CPS - Custody Time Limit Calculator
I must, however, sound a note of caution. The state is under a continuing duty to comply with Article 6(3) of the Convention. If the unavailability of representation for defendants were to become a persistent and predictable background feature of publicly funded criminal litigation in this jurisdiction then those making applications for extensions to the custody time limits might increasingly struggle to establish a “good and sufficient cause”. The longer the present state of affairs persists the less sudden and unforeseen will be its consequences.
Furthermore, challenges are likely to arise even now when applications are made for the extension of custody time limits and the defendant is not represented to oppose them. I foresee that there will be particular problems in such cases. The liberty of the subject is at stake and the right to free legal representation may, depending upon the circumstances of the individual case, have been compromised. The court would have to exercise particular care in determining the proper way forward in the event that such a situation were to come about.
- See more at:
owever, there was no advocate to represent the interests of Bennett. The case was then transferred to this court. I was informed by Bennett’s solicitor that he had been completely unable to find any advocate willing to represent his client at trial. I adjourned the matter to today for a full hearing of the outstanding prosecution application to extend the custody time limits. - See more at:

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