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Presumed innocent but behind bars – is remand overused in England and Wales?

Penelope Gibbs
23 Mar 2018

Innocent until proven guilty is an ancient principle of English law. So 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 for hundreds of years, some defendants have been imprisoned pending trial and/or sentence – remanded in custody. Imprisonment destroys family ties and community links, and leads to the loss of jobs and homes. Whilst remand is not technically a punishment, it effectively punishes the defendant as much as a prison sentence. Only those who are at high risk of either absconding or committing a serious crime on bail should be remanded.

England and Wales appears to have drifted far from the principle of using remand only when completely necessary. 10,776 people charged with summary (less serious) offences were remanded in 2017. Of those defendants whose cases stayed in the magistrates’ court did not get a custodial sentence at the end of their case. The evidence we have gathered suggests that 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.

This report outlines why and how remand is overused and makes practical suggestions as to how the number of people on remand could be reduced. Some of these changes would cost money, but the outlay would be more than recouped through the saving in prison costs.