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Frances Crook's blog · 16 Jun 2020

Reducing the number of children remanded to custody – call for experiences

Frances Crook in front of office bookshelves

Throughout the pandemic, my legal team has worked hard to ensure that we could continue providing our legal service for children in custody. Our service was particularly important as the Ministry of Justice has not released a single child under the early release Covid-19 scheme. But my lawyers have been doubling their efforts to get children out by other means.

They have been successful in supporting a number of children to get released safely on parole and to achieve early release under the existing arrangements, often having to challenge local authorities to put support in place around the child.

This work is more important than ever – prisons are simply warehousing children having stopped all family visits, face-to-face education and therapy. Children are mostly spending 22 hours or more a day in their cells.

A third of all children in prison are on remand. Many of them face endless uncertainty as their trials have been postponed, which means they could spend many months in prison. Between April 2018 and March 2019, two-thirds of children remanded to youth detention accommodation did not subsequently receive a custodial sentence. We all know that around half of all children in prison are from ethnic minorities and in some children’s prisons, around two-thirds of children on remand are from black and ethnic minorities.

I would like to hear about what is happening on the ground

There is every reason then to do all we can to get children who are currently remanded to custody out safely into the community as soon as possible.

To help tackle this issue, in partnership with Garden Court Chambers, we have published legal and practical guidance for defence lawyers to resist and challenge attempts to remand children to custody, and assist them in making effective bail applications for children during the Covid-19 pandemic. That includes practical tips on how to make sure that children are kitted out with accommodation and support in the community to enable successful bail applications. My lawyers have also teamed forces with the Youth Practitioners Association and we will be providing a free webinar for practitioners, lawyers, social workers and YOTs, on this issue on Wednesday 17 June.

The best way to effect change is by example. I would like to hear about what is happening on the ground to get children on remand out on bail – both good and bad practice. Contact us or post your experience on this blog. We need to know what is happening out there.

Comments

  • I have continued to attend the youth court in person throughout lockdown both for children who have been arrested and produced before the court and in respect of applications to extend CTLS. There are pockets of bad practice but in general I have found that the courts are making no issue of listing applications for bail under the ‘change of circumstances’ heading since Covid-19 took hold. On all but one occasion I have secured bail and have used the Howard Leagues research paper in respect of the current conditions in YOI/STC. I am also pleased to say that when I have dealt with children brought before the court from the police station charged with offences and where the Crown oppose bail, I have managed to secure bail, albeit with some stringent packages, again highlighting the research that has been conducted. I have also found that most DJ’s were aware of the research and had applied their minds to it when considering bail.

  • Craig says:

    A recent experience of mine – Child remanded into custody. Crown apply to extend CTL – application fully argued and refused. District Judge therefore grants bail.

    The YOT had refused to engage throughout with bail, offering no support – even in the event that bail was granted.

    Bail was granted on the Friday afternoon and it appears that there were issues getting the paperwork to the YOI and so the young person was not released. On the Monday, there was an issue with the bail address provided – notwithstanding that issue, the LA could not find a placement until the evening, the young person was kept in custody overnight and was produced in custody (the DJ was now involved who was demanding his immediate release).

    At the court hearing (now Tuesday morning), no one from the supervising YOT or the LA attended to assist. The child was released at 11am.

    There appeared to be a lack of understanding in terms of the CTL application and its consequences, and a lack of preparation in the event of release. All in all, a young person spent 3-4 days in custody longer than he should have, through no fault of his own.

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