Four people accused of murder are to be released on bail after a judge refused to extend the time they could be kept in custody pending trial.
The trial, for the fatal stabbing of 40-year-old Keith Green in February, could not go ahead as planned on Tuesday because of the indefinite strike by criminal barristers over legal aid fees. Judge Ian Pringle, the recorder of Oxford, was asked to extend the period the accused could be held on remand beyond the six-month limit, which expires at midnight on Thursday, but refused to do so.
It was the latest in a series of refusals by judges to extend custody time limits (CTLs) in cases affected by the barristers’ strike, but the first where the defendants were accused of murder.
In written reasons explaining his decision, Pringle pointedly remarked on the current state of the criminal courts and the government’s failure to remedy it. He said the government had made “virtually no … reforms” to legal aid funding despite the recommendations of an independent government-commissioned review and pressure from the Criminal Bar Association (CBA).
“In my view, the current situation in the criminal courts in this country has been coming for a very considerable period of time.”
Pringle made clear that he was not judging the merits of the dispute between the CBA and the Department of Justice but said that “deciding what the nature of the problem is which is preventing the trial of these defendants proceeding before the expiry of the custody time limits, it is necessary to examine how the problem has arisen”.
On Wednesday, Pringle refused to extend the CTL in which a defendant was accused of arson, and last week he did the same in a sexual assault trial, the Oxford Mail reported.
Judges in Leicester, Bolton, Manchester and Isleworth, west London, have all recently refused to extend CTLs, raising fears about potentially dangerous people being released. In one such case, at Bristol crown court, Judge Peter Blair QC blamed “chronic underfunding” for delays, the Law Society Gazette reported.
The CBA is striking over legal aid fees that it says are making criminal law work untenable and driving advocates out of the specialism.