Judge complains of 'improper' pressure over custody time limit rulings


A crown court judge who twice refused to extend custody time limits for defendants and criticised government spending on criminal justice during the pandemic claims he has been blocked from hearing a similar case.

Keith Raynor, who sits at Woolwich crown court, has complained to the senior judiciary that he has been subjected to “improper and undue influence”.

He has said he had been due to hear another remand case that was likely to raise questions about custody time limits for defendants awaiting trial for serious offences. A high court judge has now been appointed instead, he has been told.

In the past month Raynor has twice refused to extend the time a defendant can be kept behind bars, and he blamed the Ministry of Justice for failing to provide sufficient emergency courts to deal with the growing backlog of criminal trials.

This week the government announced it would extend the normal custody time limits to prevent suspects from being released and to cope with delays caused by the partial shutdown of the courts during lockdown. The MoJ also pledged £80m and an extra 1,600 court staff for more emergency “Nightingale” courts.

On Tuesday at Woolwich crown court, Raynor issued a highly critical 24-page ruling on the case of a 19-year-old who had been held for almost a year. He contrasted the Ministry of Justice’s “inadequate” efforts with the success of emergency courts in Spain and South Korea.

It was the second time in the past month that the judge had warned that he could not repeatedly order defendants to remain behind bars if the justice system was failing to bring them to trial.

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Paul Keleher QC, who acted in one of the custody time limit cases before Raynor, told the Guardian: “The criminal justice system was on its knees as a result of budget cuts before Covid-19 struck. The judgment on Tuesday by [Judge] Raynor sets out in great detail, with a large body of supporting evidence, why the judge has been forced to come to his decision to refuse an extension to the [custody time limit] – because the government’s response to Covid has been wholly inadequate.

“The fact that he has now apparently been refused permission to hear further such cases, and his complaint that he has been subjected to undue influence to come to a different decision, are very troubling.”

Amanda Pinto QC, the chair of the bar, said: “An independent judiciary is an essential pillar of our democracy. It is vital that no judge is ever subject to political or any other pressure to take a particular decision, or there is the appearance of such pressure. That is especially so when someone’s liberty is at stake. We would not accept it in another jurisdiction, and it should never be tolerated here.”

The judicial office has been approached for comment. The Ministry of Justice did not comment.



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