• Tue. May 21st, 2024

Alleged murderers to be released from prison after Oxford judge refuses to extend custody limits


Sep 21, 2022

A quartet of alleged murderers will be released from prison on bail – after a judge refused to extend the amount of time they can be kept inside on remand.

Prosecutors applied to Judge Ian Pringle KC for the ‘custody time limits’ to be extended, keeping the four in custody until their trial began. The four, who cannot be identified after the judge imposed reporting restrictions on the case, are accused of involvement in the fatal stabbing of 40-year-old Keith Green in Banbury in February.

But the senior circuit judge, who has the honorary title Recorder of Oxford, refused the application.

Judge Pringle recognised that the Crown Prosecution Service had acted with ‘all due diligence and expedition’ in making its application to extend the custody time limits – after the barrister strike meant that the trial could not go ahead earlier this month.

However, he told prosecutor Vanessa Marshall KC: “This case turned purely on ‘good and sufficient cause’.” Previously, the same judge has said in other cases that delays caused by the barrister strike have not amounted to ‘good and sufficient cause’. A written ruling explaining his full reasons for refusing the application is expected tomorrow (September 22).

By law, a judge can only extend the ‘CTLs’ if they are satisfied that there are ‘good and sufficient’ reasons to do so. Individuals may be remanded by the courts and held for up to 182 days without conviction, although a judge may extend the period during which someone can be held on remand.

Across England, a number of judges have refused similar applications – brought as the barrister strike has meant trial dates have been pushed back as trials cannot be heard. A total of five cases are currently being reviewed by a High Court judge.

Last week, Judge Pringle refused to extend the custody time limits in an alleged sexual assault trial, meaning the defendant was released on a strict package of bail measures.

In a written ruling on that case, he said of the Crown’s claim there were ‘good grounds’ for keeping the accused in custody: “This may, of course, be so, but they do not amount to a ‘good and sufficient cause’ so that a time limit introduced by the government for those defendants held on remand may be automatically extended because there has been a failure to solve a long-running dispute with those who represent legally aided defendants.

“If the situation was as the prosecution contend, then the grounds under which they were originally remanded in custody under the Bail Act would simply justify extending the Custody Time Limit on an almost perpetual basis.”

Earlier today (September 21), in a separate case where the defendant was accused of arson, the same judge refused to extend the CTLs.

When it was suggested by the prosecutor in that case that the judge could extend the custody time limits for a shorter period, until the question had been ruled on by the higher courts, Judge Pringle said: “I’m not sure whether that’s really right. If there’s a good and sufficient cause for extending, it’s not ‘let’s wait to see what the court of appeal’ do I don’t think that’s a legitimate reason to extend a custody time limit.”

Following the refusal to extend the custody time limits in the murder case, a Ministry of Justice spokeswoman said: “Judges make bail decisions independently of government.

"We have proposed a 15 per cent increase to criminal barristers’ fees due to come into force next week and are spending almost half-a-billion pounds to speed up justice as we recover from the pandemic.”

Barristers' group the Criminal Bar Association has called on the government to increase Legal Aid rates by 25 per cent.

They say any increase in the rates should be backdated to cover cases already in the criminal justice system; because barristers are typically paid at the conclusion of cases, it could be months or years before the benefit of any increase is felt.

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This story was written by Tom Seaward. He joined the team in 2021 as Oxfordshire's court and crime reporter.

To get in touch with him email: Tom.Seaward@newsquest.co.uk

Follow him on Twitter: @t_seaward