The British justice system is ill-equipped to deal with ever-rising numbers of remand prisoners, a report published today by the House of Commons Justice Committee has warned.
The committee has called for greater use of community alternatives to custodial remand, particularly for non-violent offences, and improved support for those subject to custodial remand.
The number of defendants being held in custodial remand while awaiting trial is at the highest level it has been for 50 years.
They are also being held for longer periods of time, often beyond the statutory six-month limit. Recent figures show that 770 prisoners have been held on custodial remand for over two years, awaiting trial.
Ongoing backlogs in the court system have been a primary driver behind the growth in the remand population, despite a decline in the number of cases entering the courts since the pandemic.
The reports adds that while custodial remand is vital for protecting the public from those charged with violent crime or deemed at risk of absconding, evidence suggests it is increasingly being used for non-violent offences, particularly where the defendant is a persistent reoffender.
Growth in the use of custodial remand is also feared to be driven by the absence of community provision to support vulnerabilities such as drug abuse, homelessness and mental illness.
The committee calls for an independent review into the legislation governing the use of custodial remand, to investigate whether it is still operating as intended.
The committee calls for the same access to mental health services, drug treatment, education and training for remand prisoners as the rest of the prison population.
"Depriving someone of their liberty under any circumstances can mean losing employment, accommodation and familial contact. For this to happen when an individual is yet to be convicted of a crime is a serious measure and should not be taken lightly. Yet those subject to remand are not given adequate support to mitigate these effects.”
Better alternatives, including electronic tagging or conditional bail, should be considered, he said.
“We echo the committee’s concerns about the increase in the number of people held in custody on remand and agree remand should only be used where there is a risk to public safety or a risk of absconding,” said Law Society of England and Wales President Lubna Shuja.
“Solicitors repeatedly tell us about the difficulty of seeing clients in custody and there is a real danger of people not getting proper access to justice. Anyone held on custodial remand must have access to their lawyer.
“Defendants, who could be innocent, are being held in custody for more than two years – one of many consequences of failing to invest adequately in the criminal justice system. The human and financial costs of this are plain to see.”