Court delays imposed after emergency measure triggered to cope with overcrowding in England's prison

15 May 2024, 15:10 | Updated: 15 May 2024, 15:11

UK - London - HMP Wandsworth Prison
UK - London - HMP Wandsworth Prison. Picture: Getty


The Ministry of Defence has triggered an emergency measure to deal with overcrowding in England’s prisons.

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The criminal justice system has been ordered to delay starting the court cases of some suspects.

Operation Early Dawn will see defendants in police custody remain there rather than being transferred to magistrates’ court for bail hearings, while those not prioritised will be released on bail.

Many magistrates' court cases will be delayed as a result, with the most serious cases given priority, according to the Law Society, which represents solicitors in England and Wales.

It's not specified how many suspects will be bailed under the operation but officials suggest the plan will remain in place for a week.

The measure is just being used in London and the North East, at the moment, Sky News reported.

Read more: Domestic abuser among 'dangerous prisoners released from jail early' under government plans to cut overcrowding

Read more: Scandal-hit Wandsworth prison should be put into emergency measures amid security concerns, watchdog warns

The emergency measure comes after the government separately agreed to cut short some prison sentences by up to 70 days, also to ease overcrowding.

This scheme was introduced in October 2023 and at the time allowed for release up to 18 days early, with this increasing to 60 days in March.The plan to delay sending some cases to court emerged on Tuesday evening but the Ministry of Justice only confirmed the scheme publicly on Wednesday morning.

The prison population has rapidly increased in recent decades due to harsher sentences and court backlogs, which government officials say the pandemic is partly to blame for as more people were being held in prisons for longer, awaiting jury trial.

On Tuesday, Justice Secretary Alex Chalk said there were nearly 16,000 people in custody awaiting trial at the moment and "plainly that has an impact".