£15 MILLION A YEAR ‘WASTED’ HOLDING PRISONERS ON REMAND IN PRISON
END INTERNMENT BY REMAND
‘The justice minister should look at whether clearer legislation around this area could reduce the number of people being held on remand and the associated costs – Alastair Ross.
MILLIONS of pounds are being “wasted” every year holding in custody people who later walk free from prison when their cases are heard in court.
One in four people remanded in custody in the North of Ireland is later acquitted (without conviction) or given a non-custodial sentence, figures obtained by The Irish News reveal. The use of remand on those later released from jail comes at a cost to the public purse of an estimated £15 million per year. The figures emerged as campaigners in Britain warn that the overuse of remand is squanding millions of pounds and worsening jail over-crowding. Juliet Lyon, director of the Prison Reform Trust, on Thursday night urged Stormont to consider changing the law to restrict the use of remand. “Time on remand is a punishment with harmful effects that go beyond the loss of liberty,” she said. “Even a relatively short period in prison can result in homelessness, increased debt, family breakdown and loss of employment – an extremely high cost for people seen as so-called innocent until proven guilty before the eyes of the law. “Ministers may wish to look at the welcome changes in England and Wales with the introduction of the ‘no real prospect test’, which restricts the use of remand if the offence a defendent is accused of would be unlikely to attract a custodial sentence.”
In total 5,728 people were remanded in custody in the North of Ireland in 2012, the most recent year for which statistics have been compiled. More than 5,728 people were remanded in custody in the North of Ireland (not including the South of Ireland) in 2012, the most recent year for which statistics have been compilied. In total more than 1,350 – almost 24 per cent – went on to be acquitted or given non-custodial sentences, according to figures obtained through The Freedom of Information Act request. This cost more than £14.7 million, based on each prison place in the North of Ireland costing £62,898 per year and using the average nine-week remand period recorded in England and Wales. The proportion of those acquitted or given non-custodial sentnces was almost 22 per cent for magistrates’ courts and nearly 32 per cent for (High Court) crown court cases. People can be remanded in custody by a magistrate’s court, possibly until their trial begins, for reasons including the seriousness of the charges, previous convictions and fears the accused will committ further offences. The DUP’s Alastair Ross, chairman of the Stormont Justice Committee, said “clearer legislation” should be considered. “This is an area of the criminal justice system that some would argue is complex, disjointed and in need of modernisation,” the East Antrim MLA said. “Whilst it will always be the case that there are some individuals from whom bail would not be appropriate, the justice minister should look at whether clearer legislation around this area could reduce the number of people being held on remand and the associated costs.” A Lord Chief Justice’s Office spokeswoman said judges reflect on a range of factors such as the strength of evidence and the facts presented in court. “Each bail decision, in fulfilment of the principle of judicial independence, will be taken in accordance with the law and on the basis of the information before the court at the time that bail is being sought,” she said. “When those who are convicted are sentenced the time already spent on remand is taken into account and in some cases this can lead to the imposition of a community sentence.” But also people that are held on remand for up to three years and not found guilty of any criminal offence have no way of claiming unlawful arrest from the police or government (in other words internment by remand) which is a way for police to keep people of the streets who they deem dangerous.
With many thanks to: Brendan Hughes, The Irish News, for the orgional story.