English High Court allows review of custody time limit extension decision, refuses another 

England and Wales High Court
England and Wales High Court

The English High Court of Justice (Queen’s Bench Division) has granted judicial review of a judge’s decision not to extend the custody time limit (CTL) for a suspected drug dealer, but refused to allow a review challenging an extension for a teenager accused of perverting the course of justice. 

The first of two unconnected applications was made by the Director of Public Prosecutions, in relation to a judge’s decision not to grant a further CTL in the case of Tesfa Young-Williams at Woolwich Crown Court. The second was made by Jayano Lucima, a teenager who had his CTL extended further in the Central Criminal Court. Both cases had been listed for rolled-up hearings. 

The cases were heard by the Lord Chief Justice of England and Wales, Lord Burnett of Maldon, and Lord Justice Holroyde. Both judges contributed to the opinion of the court. 

Pandemic extension 

Mr Young-Williams was charged with three counts of possession of a controlled drug with intent to supply and one count of possession of criminal property after he was arrested in possession of cocaine, heroin, cannabis, and over £2000 in cash. He was remanded in custody on 23 October 2019 with a CTL expiring on 20 April 2020. As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, the expiry date was extended to June 2020 and then again to September 2020. 

On 21 August 2020, the prosecution made another application to extend the CTL, again for pandemic-related reasons. Judge Raynor in the Crown Court refused the application, holding that the lack of available courtrooms to hear jury trials for defendants in custody was neither a good nor a sufficient cause to extend the CTL in his case, and that the prosecution had not acted with due diligence and expedition. 

In refusing the extension, Judge Raynor concluded that there was a broad systemic failure by HMCTS and the Ministry of Justice to provide for jury trials within CTLs during the pandemic. He decided that the measures indicated in the Recovery Plan prepared by HMCTS to enable jury trials in a time of social distancing did not have a realistic prospect of succeeding in reducing the backlog of outstanding trials. It was submitted on appeal that these conclusions were not sustainable. 

Conclusions not open 

In the opinion of the court, Lord Burnett of Maldon and Holroyde LJ agreed with the DPP’s submissions, saying: “The materials publicly available describing the efforts made by the Working Group and HMCTS to get jury trials up and running after lockdown at the end of March 2020 demonstrate the deep practical problems which had to be overcome. The problem was not lack of funding nor systemic failure.” 

They continued: “Moreover, Judge Raynor’s focus on funding was infected by a misunderstanding of article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights which guarantees (amongst much else) a trial ‘within a reasonable time’. We observe that the time which has elapsed since Mr Young-Williams was arrested (a little over a year) is, on any view, far removed from giving rise to a violation of article 6.” 

The court concluded: “Judge Raynor did not need to decide the matter because quite separately he concluded that the CPS had not acted with due diligence and expedition. [The DPP] has not sought to overturn that conclusion. We are, nonetheless, satisfied that the judge’s decision that the prosecution had not shown that the need for an extension to the CTL was due to a good and sufficient cause was one that was not open to him.” 

For these reasons, the court granted the application and declared that the decision of Judge Raynor that the prosecution had not shown that the need for an extension was due to a good and sufficient cause was not one that was open to him. 

Abandoned murder charge 

The second claimant, Mr Lucima, was 17 years old when he was charged with murder on 6 January 2020. His CTL expired in July 2020 but was extended to September 2020 as other suspects were to be joined to the murder allegation. On 16 July 2020, the murder charge was abandoned. Mr Lucima was instead prosecuted for acts tending and intending to pervert the course of justice, namely the purchase of cleaning materials to enable his co-defendants to cover up the murder. 

Judge Hillen in the Central Criminal Court granted the prosecution a CTL extension to February 2021, finding that the effects of the pandemic amounted to good and sufficient cause. It was submitted for Mr Lucima that the judge was wrong to adopt this view, did not apply the current HMCTS policy to the circumstances of the case, and did not allow Mr Lucima to scrutinise the policy. 

No arguable ground 

Addressing Mr Lucima’s submissions, the court said: “We recognise that Mr Lucima is very young, and we see the force of [his] submission that the stage may quite soon be reached when [he] will have been in custody for the equivalent of the sentence he could expect to receive if convicted. We accept that Judge Hillen might have given more weight than he did to those factors when exercising his discretion.” 

It concluded: “We can well see why he limited the length of the extension and thus provided an opportunity for review in the near future. We can however see no arguable ground on which his decision can be said to have been unlawful.” 

For these reasons, permission to apply for judicial review was refused in Mr Lucima’s case. 

© Scottish Legal News Ltd 2021

Other judgments by Lord Burnett of Maldon