Lord chancellor Robert Buckland has revealed he is working with home secretary Priti Patel to come up with ‘practical solutions’ after police forces withdrew support for running video remand hearings from their custody suites.
The Gazette revealed in October that forces would stop using virtual remand hearings altogether from December because they can no longer afford to support HMCTS by providing the service during the pandemic. It means defendants will be required to appear in court in person.
Buckland was asked at the Commons justice select committee last week what was being done to solve the problem.
Buckland told MPs that video remand hearings were the ‘singular success story’ regarding the response to Covid in the courts, allowing remote hearings rather than bringing defendants to court in a van.
‘The issue has been around who provides the support, the staff service to those hearings. At the moment, because of legislative constraints, police officers are the only ones who can exercise that custodial function,’ he said.
‘The legislation was written and passed at a time when remand hearings were not contemplated. It was predicated on transference of prisoners from one place to another. It seems to us that the current primary framework prevents the use of Prisoner Escort and Custody Service officers from doing what the police can only do. Therefore we need to change the law and we are going to do that in the New Year. However, that does not get us over the particular challenge between now and then.’
Buckland said he was working closely with Patel and her department ‘to develop practical solutions’.
Officials have carried out ‘intensive work’ to work out ‘where the pinch points are’ and identify courts in areas where the demand for video hearings is particularly high, ‘to come up with some tailored solutions to allow them to continue'. Buckland said that would 'involve a bit of money as well’ from the Ministry of Justice and Home Office.
Buckland added that he and Patel will be writing to police colleagues to inform them of the outcome of the officials’ work.