Courts wasted £230m last year ‘needlessly’ holding people on remand, figures published by the Howard League for Penal Reform have revealed today.

The charity said that during 2013, more than 35,000 people who had been remanded in custody went on to be either acquitted or given non-custodial sentences.

The chairman of the Magistrates’ Association, Richard Monkhouse (pictured), said the figures were based on a ‘misunderstanding’ of the law surrounding bail.

Of the 36,044 men, women and children who were remanded into custody by magistrates, 25,413 (71%) did not go on to receive a custodial sentence.

While in the Crown courts, 9,844 (27%) of the 36,833 men, women and children remanded were either acquitted or given a non-custodial sentence.

With each prison place costing an average of £37,000 a year and the average remand being nine weeks, the Howard League estimates that £165m a year is being wasted by the prison system remanding people who do not go on to receive a custodial sentence, together with wider costs.

It said the figures suggested that there is ‘widespread overuse and misuse’ of remand across England and Wales, which is worsening prison overcrowding.

Chief executive of the Howard League Frances Crook said: ‘Our prisons are squalid and our prisoners are idle, yet the courts are continuing to remand innocent people and people accused of petty crime at huge public expense. It is time to end this unjust system, which is costing the nation money that could be better spent.’

Responding, Monkhouse said the figures did not give the context in which bail decisions are made: ‘The decision to remand a person in custody is one of the toughest our members have to take, in doing so they are assessing risk and fulfilling their duty to apply the law.’

He added: ‘The suggestion that there is widespread misuse of remand is misguided, very careful consideration is taken by our members when doing their job in administering the law.’

The Magistrates’ Association said acquittal at trial cannot be grounds to criticise a court which has remanded a defendant in custody, as there may be many reasons why a custodial sentence is not given.