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MPs show concern over video links for remand prisoners

Prison fence
Image source: Barnes

MPs have urged the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) to carry out research on how the use of video links in prisons and police stations is affecting the number of people remanded to custody.

The House of Commons Justice Committee has highlighted the issue within its report on the role of adult custodial remand in the criminal justice system, published this month.

It has also identified significant gaps in the data collected on the use of remand.

The report’s section on data and technology points to the increasing use of video links in remand review hearings during the Covid-19 pandemic, with every prison holding remand prisoners now being able to facilitate video hearings and around 240,000 video calls to court made between January and September 2022.

It acknowledges the benefit in reducing the disruption of repeated court visits, but says concerns have been raised about the approach placing defendants with cognitive impairments, mental health and neurodivergent conditions at a disadvantage.

Access to justice

“The convenience of video technology must not affect a defendant’s access to justice, and should not become a default position because of resource or capacity measure,” the report says. “It is important that trials and other key hearings continue to be heard physically in court.”

There are also worries that that ‘video visits’ for prisoners are not an adequate substitute for in-person visits.

In response, the committee recommends that the MoJ should carry out research on how the use of the technology affects remand rates to ensure it is not having a significant impact on the number of people remanded to custody.

It is more confident in the use of electronic monitoring, saying it welcomes the Government’s commitment to the approach and that magistrates should be provided with all the information that is available.

Other concerns are highlighted around the need for more good quality data from a central source on the remanded population, notably on how long a defendant spends on remand and reasons for refusing bail.

Collate and publish

The report says the MoJ should begin to collate and publish more of this data, and welcomes work done by advocacy organisation the Centre for Public Data on the issue. The group has published a briefing note highlighting ‘data gaps’ in the system and saying the MoJ should make the Common Platform for the Courts Service available for inspection and analysis.

“It is only on the basis of good quality data in respect of the use of custodial demand that there can be effective policy making,” the MPs’ report says.

Overall, it raises concern over the increasing size of the remand population, which is at its highest for 50 years, which is partly down to the constraints on court capacity which are delaying trials and sentencing in many cases.

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