Custody limits: judge risked appearance of bias, court told



A High Court judge was told this morning that she risked appearing biased if she heard an application to extend the custody time limit on a man accused of attempted murder.

A QC for the defendant told Mrs Justice Whipple that senior judges had worked ‘hand in hand’ with ministers who had ‘congratulated themselves’ over the courts’ response to the coronavirus crisis.

Mrs Justice Whipple had been drafted in to to hear the application for an extension after it was removed from the trial judge at Woolwich crown court on the instruction of the senior presiding judge, Lady Justice Thirwall. She allowed the application to extend the custody time limit and refused a subsequent defence bail application.

Earlier, Sarah Forshaw QC asked Mrs Justice Whipple to disqualify herself from hearing the application because it would give the ‘appearance of bias’. She told the court that the ‘only reasonable inference’ was that Mrs Justice Whipple had ‘been drafted in at the eleventh hour’ because the senior judiciary had become concerned about two previous refusals to extend custody time limits by Judge Keith Raynor sitting at Woolwich. 

The defence argued that the senior judiciary did not want to run the risk of Judge Raynor making another similar ruling.

Forshaw asked for correspondence between Lady Justice Thirwall and Christopher Kinch, QC, the senior judge at Woolwich, relating to the decision to remove Judge Raynor, to be disclosed ‘so the appearance of bias could be removed’.

Mrs Justice Whipple refused to recuse herself, stating that she would give written reasons for her decision later. 

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Forshaw had told the court that ministers and senior judges had failed to do everything possible to keep the criminal courts open during the pandemic. She said ‘years of underfunding exacerbated by coronavirus’ had resulted in lengthy delays, leaving defendants ‘at the mercy of the state as to how long they spend in custody waiting for trial’.

She told the Gazette that she would appeal Mrs Justice Whipple’s refusal to recuse herself. 



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