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Children exempt from extended custody time limits in the Crown Court

The Prosecution of Offences (Custody Time Limits) Regulations 1987

The Prosecution of Offences (Custody Time Limits) (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations 2020

Following a legal challenge by Just for Kids Law, the Government has announced that children remanded to custody in the Crown Court will be exempt from the Prosecution of Offences (Custody Time Limits) (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations 2020.

Details 

The Prosecution of Offences (CTL) Regulations 1987

Custody Time Limits were introduced by the Prosecution of Offences Act 1985[1] to ensure that any person held in custody awaiting their trial is not deprived of their liberty for longer than is reasonable. The 1987 Regulation established a maximum length of time a defendant can be held in custody awaiting trial in the Magistrates’ Court and the Crown Court, before judicial scrutiny of a decision to remand to custody takes place. The legislation requires the Crown Prosecution Service to progress cases to trial diligently and expeditiously and to make an application to extend the Custody Time Limits if the case is not finalised within the initial expiry date. The burden is on the CPS to demonstrate to the court a good and sufficient cause for the extension of CTL in an individual case.

The Prosecution of Offences (CTL) (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations 2020

The CTL Coronavirus Amendment Regulations 2020 were introduced as a way of addressing the delays to jury trials in the Crown Court that have been caused by COVID-19. The CTL Coronavirus Amendment Regulations 2020 came into effect on 28 September 2020 and will cease to have effect on 28 June 2021, unless extended further. The regulations applied equally to children and adults remanded in custody on or after 28 September 2020 but before 28 June 2021.

Regulation 2 of the Coronavirus Amendment Regulations 2020 amended the 1987 Regulations to extend Custody Time Limits in the Crown Court in the following ways:

  1. 168 days (from 112 days) in respect of the maximum period of custody between the time when the accused is committed for trial and the start of the trial or between the time when a bill of indictment is preferred by the Court of Appeal or by the direction or consent of a judge of the High Court against the accused and the start of the trial; and,
  2. 238 days (from 182 days) in respect of the maximum period of custody between the accused being sent to the Crown Court by a magistrates’ court for an offence and the start of the trial in relation to it.

Exemption of children under the Prosecution of Offences (Custody Time Limits) (Coronavirus) (Amendment) Regulations 2021

Following a legal challenge, the Government has announced that children will be exempt from the CTL Coronavirus Amendment Regulations 2020. A new statutory instrument exempting children from the regulations is due to be laid before Parliament as soon as the parliamentary timetable allows and will have a retrospective effect which means children remanded on or after 28 September 2020 will have their Custody Time Limits reduced to the previous maximum limits under the 1987 Regulations (182 days).

It is anticipated that the new statutory instrument will be laid before Parliament within the next few weeks. Before this happens, the Crown Court and the Crown Prosecution Service will take steps to review existing cases of children remanded to custody in the Crown Court. Cases where trials have been listed outside of the 182 days limit under the 1987 Regulations, will be required to be relisted to a date within that limit. Practitioners are encouraged to review their cases and bring them to the attention of the Crown Court and the CPS where required.

Commentary 

The exemption of children from extended custody time limits will have an immediate positive impact on children who have been remanded to custody since 28 September 2020 and are currently awaiting trials in the Crown Court. The change means that these children, who are some of the most vulnerable in the society, will spend less time in custody and their trials will take place sooner.

It is worth highlighting here that there has been no change to the custody time limits applicable to adults or children awaiting trials in the Magistrates’ and Youth Courts.

Further details of this campaign and its successful outcome can be found in Just for Kids Law’s press release here .

This page will be updated when the new statutory instrument comes into force.

[1] Prosecution of Offences Act 1985