Letter: Erosion of the rights of remand prisoners

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The Independent Online
Sir: The financial logic behind the Government's new scheme to force remand prisoners to make court appearances via a television link rather than in person (report, 10 July) is persuasive. However, the damage this scheme will do to the quality of justice received by remand prisoners is enormous.

Trial by TV is no substitute for a live court appearance. No matter how good the technology, prisoners will not be able to participate as fully in proceedings as they would were they in court. Many prisoners already come away from courts believing they have not been able to put their case fully; exclusion from the courtroom will only intensify that feeling.

Moreover, the financial savings this scheme will bring may be offset by the costs of an increased use of custody. A court appearance is often a prisoner's only opportunity to see a solicitor who is too busy or too proud to visit the prison. Prisoners' ability to prepare a defence or to make applications for bail will therefore be impaired, and a custodial remand or sentence will be more likely. In addition, magistrates will be influenced by the fact that the authorities have not produced a defendant to court and may be more likely to remand into custody a defendant who is already in prison.

None of this would be so worrying were this not one of a series of recent attacks on the rights of defendants. The recent increase in the maximum period of remand from eight to 28 days has severely eroded remand prisoners' right to regular reviews of their detention. Our prisons are overcrowded with remand prisoners and the Home Office is predicting a 3,400 rise in numbers over the next eight years. The Government's decision to experiment with a scheme which will further reduce the chances of defendants being granted bail is short-sighted and dishonourable.

Yours sincerely,


Deputy Director

Prison Reform Trust

London, N1