Innocent until proven guilty is an ancient principle of English law. Given this, there’s a presumption that those pleading not guilty should be granted bail, so they can live in the community while waiting for their trial.
But too many people are imprisoned before a court has found them innocent or guilty. Remand – as this type of imprisonment is known – is overused. Most people on remand do not go on to receive a prison sentence, and many have not been accused of a violent offence. Even a short period of imprisonment destroys family ties and community links and can lead to loss of job and home.
We appear to have drifted far from the principle of using remand only when completely necessary. Our research and advocacy challenges the deprivation of liberty of the thousands of children and adults on remand in prison.
Being remanded to custody deprives children of their liberty when they protest their innocence, disrupts education, severs positive social relationships with family and friends, and is a traumatic experience. Children should only be imprisoned pre-trial as an absolute last resort.
While the number of children remanded has reduced in recent years, too many children are still remanded unnecessarily. The population of children on remand also has one of the starkest racial disparities in the criminal justice system. Black and mixed heritage boys are particularly overrepresented. And children on remand from minoritised communities are more likely to be acquitted or have their cases discontinued than other defendants.
Transform Justice advocates nationally for changes to policy and practice to end the unnecessary use of remand for children. We also engage with London youth justice stakeholders to drive down remands in the capital, where remands where remands and racial disparity is particularly stark.
There are over 11,000 adults in prison on remand – over 15% of the prison population. Despite these high numbers its use is severely under-scrutinised; decisions to remand are taken too quickly, on the basis of too little information. Too often the prosecution case seems to be given greater weight than that of the defence, or the application to remand is unopposed. Once a defendant has been remanded, it’s very difficult to get the decision reversed. The defendant in prison finds it hard to communicate with their lawyer, gets very little help from prison staff, and is usually forced to appear from prison on video for court remand hearings – which makes communication more difficult and leads to the defendant disengaging.
Since publishing our report on the overuse of remand for adults in 2018, Transform Justice has called for more data and scrutiny of the use of remand, improved training of judges and magistrates on remand legislation and better bail information and accommodation.