The Daily Telegraph

Murder suspects are freed on bail after barristers’ strike delays

- By Charles Hymas

FOUR people charged over the fatal stabbing of a man in his back garden are to become the first defendants accused of murder to be released from jail because of court delays caused by the barristers’ strike.

His Honour Justice Ian Pringle, Oxford’s most senior judge, yesterday refused to extend the amount of time the four can remain locked up after they reached the six-month remand limit.

They have been linked to the murder of Keith Green, 40, who was found dead at his home in Banbury, Oxon, on Feb 13. Two of them have also been charged with possession of a “large bladed hunting-style knife”.

The move comes amid growing fears that the ongoing strike by members of the Criminal Bar Associatio­n (CBA) will lead to more suspects being released after reaching the custody threshold.

Judges are increasing­ly ruling against extending defendants’ time in custody, with some freeing suspected arsonists and drug dealers and openly criticisin­g the Government’s “chronic” underfundi­ng of the criminal justice system.

Prosecutor­s in the Banbury murder case had applied for the custody time limits to be extended as the trial could not go ahead earlier this month owing to the barristers’ strike. They argued that the exceptiona­l delay caused by the walkout was sufficient reason to keep the defendants behind bars.

However, this was refused by Judge Pringle. He recognised that the Crown Prosecutio­n Service had acted with “all due diligence and expedition” in making its applicatio­n to extend the custody time limits. But he told prosecutor­s: “This case turned purely on ‘good and sufficient cause’.”

Previously, he had said in other cases that delays caused by the barristers’ strike had not amounted to “good and sufficient cause’’.

A written ruling explaining his full reasons for refusing the applicatio­n is due today. The four defendants cannot be identified after the judge imposed reporting restrictio­ns on the case. A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: “Judges make bail decisions independen­tly of Government.”

Ministers began talks with the CBA yesterday to try to resolve the fivemonth strike after a “constructi­ve” meeting on Tuesday.

CBA members overwhelmi­ngly rejected the Government’s 15 per cent fee rise from the end of this month.

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