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View Full Version : Need some help w/ British prison system



LordMoogi
04-21-2010, 07:52 PM
Okay, at the beginning of my story, there are three characters who are being held in a prison outside London for crimes they didn't commit. They are approached by a wealthy gentlemen who has evidence that can incontrovertibly prove their innocence- and he will make it public if they agree to work for him for three years. They all agree, and so he uses the evidence to free them.

Anyway, here's what I need to know:

I know very little about my home country's legal system, let alone that of the UK. How quickly does it take for this kind of thing to process? I know the evidence has to go to other people aside from the prison staff (such as a judge or something), and I'm pretty sure there's supposed to be another trial or something like that. How long does this take? Two weeks? Two months? Normally, the length of time wouldn't concern me, but since I'm writing this novel in the form of letters and diary entries, I think have dates for each event would be appropriate.

The legal process itself isn't particularly important- the prison thing is basically a convenient way to get all these people together and force them into working for this wealthy guy. So, I'm more interested in the times, rather than the actual system. But I want to have at least a little realism in this story- when your plot involves an immortal hippie chick who has part of a Great Old One inside her, the Illuminati, and a weather gun, you need all the realism you can get to balance things out.

Also, I am fully aware that what the rich guy is doing is blackmail, which is itself illegal. But said character is rich enough that he can... influence the authorities to turn a blind eye. And anyway, then we wouldn't have a story.

Thanks in advance!

wornoutmumoftwo
04-22-2010, 12:56 PM
OK. I'm no expert, but from what I can gather, your characters would be arrested by the Police, held in a cell/inteviewed and depending on what evidence there was they would be charged.

I think they would be held in the police cell until they could be seen by a court (next day?) The judge would then agree to bail or not and they would be bound over to reappear at a court date.

So, if you want them going to a prison, they need to have done something bad, or the judge might think there's a risk of them disappearing and not turning up for the actual court case - which can take months to come around.

So if refused bail they would be taken to prison, and be in the prison system.

Two well known prisons in outer london are Wormwood scrubs (for men) and Holloway (women).

Hope that helps you a little, but I'm not an expert of it.

Becky Black
04-22-2010, 01:57 PM
If they are already in prison have they been convicted or are they on remand awaiting trial?

If they've already been convicted then they are going to have to win an appeal, where the new evidence will be presented to establish their innocence. The Crown Prosecution Service might not even contest the appeal in the light of the new evidence. But whatever, it's all going to take several months.

You're better off if they haven't had their trial yet. The new evidence could be given to the police for investigation and the charges against your guys could be dropped and they'd be released from remand. Or if the evidence is going to only be presented as part of the defence case then it would again take several months between arrest and trial

Though your story could of course start soon before they come to trial after being in prison on remand for months and he shows up with the new evidence for the defence lawyers. So they are sensationally acquitted even though they looked doomed, which would make for a dramatic opening to the story. And makes sure your three characters are feeling ready to grab any lifeline, even if they end up in bigger trouble than before (which I'll bet they do, right? :D)

shaldna
04-22-2010, 04:06 PM
How quickly does it take for this kind of thing to process?

It depends what the charges are. Terrorism, or suspected terrorism can mean they can hold you for a month without charges.

Other than that I think it's 48 hours without charge. After that they have to let you go, or charge you.

Once you are formally charged then they can hold you 'awaiting trial'.

You may or may not be released on bail, depending again on what the charges are.


I know the evidence has to go to other people aside from the prison staff (such as a judge or something),[quote]

Yes. First the police, and then the evidence is released to your legal team for consideration. It will be presented in court if required. Prison staff DO NOT get to see evidence. They are not police.

[quote] and I'm pretty sure there's supposed to be another trial or something like that. How long does this take? Two weeks? Two months?

It depends on the charges and the complexity of the case. The tioming of the case will depend on the other cases in the system too.

Some cases will take a few hours, others will take months before they even come to trial.




Also, I am fully aware that what the rich guy is doing is blackmail, which is itself illegal. But said character is rich enough that he can... influence the authorities to turn a blind eye.

Not here he can't.

LordMoogi
04-22-2010, 06:46 PM
Though your story could of course start soon before they come to trial after being in prison on remand for months and he shows up with the new evidence for the defence lawyers. So they are sensationally acquitted even though they looked doomed, which would make for a dramatic opening to the story. And makes sure your three characters are feeling ready to grab any lifeline, even if they end up in bigger trouble than before (which I'll bet they do, right? :D)

Your idea sounds good. I think I'll have to steal it. :)

The way I planned to write the opening was to start with the meeting with the employer and then skip ahead to the day of their release. While the legal proceedings would make for an interesting read, going into too much detail wouldn't really mesh well with my story- since it is, after all, a weird neo-pulp SF urban fantasy spy conspiracy adventure.

So, do you think a month would be an adequate time skip?

And yes, they do end up in bigger trouble than before. At least in prison there are no chupacabras.

RobinGBrown
04-23-2010, 11:42 AM
Not here he can't.

I'd just like to second that, the British justice system might have it's flaws but it is highly resistant to influence.

Politicial influence is a different matter - if a case gets the Home secretary involved then all bets are off.

Also, suspects are usually held seperately in police stations to prevent them working together to create a story. For your guys to meet they would have to be in remand after being charged or in prison after being sentenced - and there's no gaurantee that they would all go to the same prison either.

Becky Black
04-23-2010, 01:56 PM
Your idea sounds good. I think I'll have to steal it. :)

The way I planned to write the opening was to start with the meeting with the employer and then skip ahead to the day of their release. While the legal proceedings would make for an interesting read, going into too much detail wouldn't really mesh well with my story- since it is, after all, a weird neo-pulp SF urban fantasy spy conspiracy adventure.

So, do you think a month would be an adequate time skip?

And yes, they do end up in bigger trouble than before. At least in prison there are no chupacabras.

Sounds good. The meeting could make it clear how doomed they feel, how strong the case against them is. Maybe they are even pretty sure they can agree to whatever this guy is asking of them, because the chances of it working are slim-they think.

Then skip over a couple of weeks for their defence barristers to work with the new evidence and a couple of weeks for the trial (since you don't want to do a whole courtroom drama thing) and pick up again when they are blinking in the sunlight outside the Old Bailey and wondering what the heck they've let themselves in for now.

shaldna
04-23-2010, 02:21 PM
Also, we have a term here called 'At her Majesty's leisure' which is an indefinate period of time.

This isn't used so often any more, but in the past it would have been life meaning life for most people given it.

Also, there are sentances that are handed out, usually in extreme cases and usually when there is a mental instability or illness involved, where the person can be sentanced to life imprisonment with parole or release subject to Home Sectretary approval.

johnnysannie
04-24-2010, 12:14 AM
Prisoners can be held with "REMAND" status in British prisons for an indefinite time, without trial....sometimes with iffy cause.

LordMoogi
04-24-2010, 04:07 AM
I'd just like to second that, the British justice system might have it's flaws but it is highly resistant to influence.

Politicial influence is a different matter - if a case gets the Home secretary involved then all bets are off.

Also, suspects are usually held seperately in police stations to prevent them working together to create a story. For your guys to meet they would have to be in remand after being charged or in prison after being sentenced - and there's no gaurantee that they would all go to the same prison either.

Well, the 'influence' thing is something of a narrative necessity. The thing is, blackmail is the only way to get these characters into this situation, and thus, without it, there's no story. The way I see it, believing that a character has manipulated the system to get away with a crime isn't much of a stretch for the reader's suspension of disbelief- and if it is (and one would have to be somewhat naive to not at least entertain the notion that there are corruptible individuals within the legal system of any country), it shouldn't be big enough to ruin the story. I'm writing a strange fusion of James Bond, Illuminatus, League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and Hellboy, not Law and Order, so I'm not exactly trying to focus too much on legal matters, aside from the bare minimum necessary to make the opening believable.

That said, the character in question who is doing the 'influencing' is both wealthy and politically influential, so if you really think the blackmail thing is too much of a stretch to pull off, I can always have him pull some strings with the Home Office.

Anyway, all the characters in prison were being held for different crimes, so they've never met before the first scene in the story. The initial idea was to have them be brought together to a conference room of some sort, but after reading your post, I've had second thoughts. The way I'm writing this story is in the form of diary entries, letters, and the like, so I was toying with the idea of showing the meeting with the employer from all three prisoners' perspectives. You've given me a better idea- each character will be held separately, in a different police station/prison, so I will instead write a different meeting scene for each character, with the employer driving out to visit them separately. This could also give me an opportunity to experiment with different sides of the employer's personality: for one meeting, he can be more of a 'good cop', for another, a 'bad cop', or whatever.

From there, the only problem that remains in getting all three to leave on the same day- I want them all to come to their new job at the same time, so that they can share that 'new guy at the workplace' feeling. They're going to form close bonds with each other at this place, and making them start out on equal footing is always a good first step. Of course, I could just have them hang a lampshade on the bizarre coincidence, and leave it at that. The universe that this story takes place in is, after all, one that quite literally runs on the principles of storytelling.

Any thoughts and/or better ideas on how to justify this meeting?