We cannot continue like this’ – Chair of the Bar responds to prison emergency measures banner

We cannot continue like this’ – Chair of the Bar responds to prison emergency measures

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The Ministry of Justice has announced that Operation Early Dawn has been put in place from 15 May, as an emergency measure due to prison overcrowding. The scheme will impact the flow of prisoners to the magistrates’ courts with some cases being prioritised over others on a day-to-day basis.

Commenting on the announcement, Sam Townend KC, Chair of the Bar Council said:

“The Bar will, of course, do everything that it can to ensure that the day-to-day administration of justice continues so far as possible.

“To blame the Bar for this, as the Ministry of Justice’s statement seems to, is wrong. Covid and the Criminal Bar action happened in the past. It is how you respond to it that is the test for Government.

“Operation Early Dawn is just one symptom of the chronic lack of investment in the criminal justice system for so long, along with up to 70-day early release of prisoners, the average time to trial now at a year, and the backlogs worsening.

“We cannot continue like this.

“With reducing numbers of guilty pleas and victims of crime giving up on criminal cases, the Government must now show that it takes criminal justice seriously. Real and sustained investment in prisons, courts, judges, solicitors and barristers is needed and now, otherwise these emergency measures will just precipitate more.”

ENDS 15/05/24

The Ministry of Justice statement is as follows: A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said, “This Government is categorical that the most dangerous offenders should stay behind bars for longer, which is why new laws will keep rapists locked up for every day of their prison sentence and ensure life means life for the most horrific murderers. We continue to see pressure on our prisons following the impact of the pandemic and barristers’ strike which is why we have initiated a previously used measure to securely transfer prisoners between courts and custody and ensure there is always a custody cell available should they be remanded."