Hartlepool court at bottom of national table for locking up remand prisoners

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HARTLEPOOL Magistrates’ Court has come bottom of a national table for the proportion of remand prisoners who go on to be jailed - with campaigners claiming millions of pound is wasted annually.

But officials at the Magistrates’ Association have hit out at the figures by Howard League for Penal Reform and say any suggestion that remand is subject to widespread misuse is “misguided.”

The campaign group has today published figures which showed in 2013 at Hartlepool Magistrates Court, 115 people were remanded in custody but the proportion of remanded defendants who did not go on to receive a custodial sentence was 82.6 per cent.

It means that just 17.4 per cent did receive a custodial sentence.

The reform group say nationally courts wasted an estimated £230m of taxpayers’ money last year by “needlessly” locking up people on remand with more than 35,000 people who had been remanded in custody going on to be either acquitted or given non-custodial sentences.

Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League, said: “It is time to end this unjust system, which is costing the nation money that could be better spent.”

But the Magistrates’ Association, an independent body representing justices of the peace, said the Howard League had failed to “appreciate” that magistrates taking bail decisions must concentrate on the risks the defendant will (a) commit an offence, (b) interfere with witnesses or (c) fail to return to court, if bail is granted.

The association said acquittal at trial cannot be grounds to criticise a court which has remanded a defendant as there may be sound reasons why a custodial sentence isn’t given, including the time already spent on remand, a community sentence may be more appropriate or evidence may show the offence wasn’t as serious as first claimed.

Association chairman Richard Monkhouse said: “The decision to remand a person in custody is one of the toughest our members have to take, in doing so they are assessing risk and fulfilling their duty to apply the law.

“The suggestion there is ‘widespread misuse’ of remand is misguided, very careful consideration is taken by our members when doing their job in administering the law.”

A Judiciary spokesman said: “Bail and remand decisions are a matter for the court in individual cases based on the facts that are presented to the court at the time of the hearing.

“The Bail Act 1976, as amended by the Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 imposes a strict statutory framework within which courts must make their decision.”