A judge refused to extend the amount of time a defendant accused of an attempted sexual assault can be held in custody – after his trial had to be adjourned because of the barrister strike.

The man, who we are not naming, was due to be tried at Oxford Crown Court this week on three charges, including a serious sexual assault allegation.

But the trial could not begin, with Judge Ian Pringle KC told on Wednesday afternoon that the defendant’s barrister was taking part in the Criminal Bar Association’s indefinite walk-out in Legal Aid-funded cases. The trial date was re-fixed for late October.

Prosecutor Gabrielle McAvock applied to extend the ‘custody time limit’ – the amount of time someone can be legally held in custody awaiting their trial – which are due to expire within days.

Judge Pringle accepted that the Crown Prosecution Service had acted ‘with all due diligence and expedition’ in getting the case ready for trial.

But he refused to extend the custody time limits until after the next trial date, saying the delay caused by the barrister strike was not a 'good and sufficient reason' to keep the accused in custody.

He told the barristers: “In this case I have been asked to extend the custody time limit, which expires on September 19 this month.

“That, of course, we know is now a Bank Holiday as it is the date for the funeral of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. It means, therefore, that practically the CTL expires on the 16th of this month. That is in two days’ time.

“For reasons which I will give in writing, I do not consider that the current dispute between the independent criminal bar and the government on the funding for those on Legal Aid amounts to good and sufficient reason for extending.”

He added: “There are a number of authorities [cases that have already been decided by other judges] already, albeit they are all at first instance [i.e. in the crown court].

“We await any guidance from a higher court, but as I have to make my ruling now, I do so.”

The written reasons would be given to the barristers within 48 hours, he added. The defendant, who has been remanded in custody since March, is expected to be released on bail at the end of the week.

A number of similar cases, where circuit judges in courts across England have refused to extend the custody time limits, are due to be reviewed by a High Court judge on Thursday. 

Last week, the honorary Recorder of Bristol Judge Peter Blair KC refused to extend the time limits in a ‘routine’ two-day trial, according to reports in the Law Society Gazette.

Directly referring to the Criminal Bar Association’s industrial dispute over Legal Aid rates, Judge Blair said: “On the one hand the state demands trials to commence within an applicable custody time limit, and on the other it holds the purse strings for remunerating those who are required under our rule of law to be provided with advocacy services."

The judge was reported to have said: “Today’s predicament arises precisely because of the chronic and predictable consequences of long term underfunding.

"The unavailability of representation for the defendant today has arisen because of a persistent and predictable background feature of publicly funded criminal litigation.”

The CBA wants to see Legal Aid rates increased by 25 per cent. The government has offered to up rates by 15 per cent, the minimum recommended in an independent review published last year.

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This story was written by Tom Seaward. He joined the team in 2021 as Oxfordshire's court and crime reporter.  

To get in touch with him email: Tom.Seaward@newsquest.co.uk

Follow him on Twitter: @t_seaward