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Judge blasts MoJ’s ‘systemic failure’ over Crown court backlog

By Catherine Baksi  >>

Crown court judge has accused the government of ‘systemic failure’ for not conducting trials in a reasonable time.

Judge Keith Raynor, at Woolwich Crown Court, refused to further extend the custody time limit for a teenager who had been held in prison waiting for his trial for 321 days.

In a damning ruling, he slammed the government’s failure to fund the criminal justice system adequately and the Ministry of Justice’ slow response to the coronavirus crisis. Judge Raynor said the government had ‘failed to organise its legal system’ to allow the courts to comply with human rights law by ensuring that trials of defendants remanded in custody are dealt with in a reasonable time.

The judge said a package of measures announced at the weekend – to allow suspects to be held in custody for up to eight months before trial, install plexi-glass to divide jurors and open eight more extra ‘Nightingale’ courts – have no ‘realistic prospect’ of reducing the backlog of criminal cases.

More than 43,000 cases are awaiting trial in the Crown court, up from 37,500 before the lockdown.

Tefsa Young-Williams, 19, was arrested in October 2019 and charged with drugs offences. He has been held in custody for 321 days, which is 139 days longer than the usual 182-day limit and 83 days longer than the extended 238 days.

Judge Raynor said: ‘He is innocent until proven guilty. That is at the forefront of my mind.’  He said neither the lack of available courtrooms to hear jury trials nor the ‘lack of money provided by parliament to provide sufficient space for trials to be conducted’ presented a good enough reason to further extend the custody time limit in this case.

Young-Williams remains in custody in connection with other alleged offences.

This is the second time that Judge Raynor has refused to extend a custody time limit.

In a highly unusual remark, he appeared to suggest that the senior presiding judge, Lady Justice Thirlwall, had attempted to interfere with certain judges’ ability to hear time limit applications. He said on 12 August he received an email indicating that the senior presiding judge had decided that all contested  extension applications should be heard by members of a small panel of judges. Lady Justice Thirwall declined to comment.

Paul Keleher, QC, acting for Young-Williams, told the Gazette: “The criminal justice system was on its knees as a result of budget cuts before Covid-19 struck. The judgment sets out in great detail, with a larger body of supporting evidence, why the judge has been forced to come to his decision – because the government’s response to Covid has been wholly inadequate.’

(Courtesy: The Law Society Gazette)