Some court appearances are set to be delayed as part of an emergency measure to deal with prison overcrowding in England.

The plan, known as Operation Early Dawn, began on Wednesday morning and aims to better manage the flow of cases through magistrates’ courts, the custody service and prisons.

In areas with a lack of prison places, magistrates’ courts will be affected for around a week.

During the delay, officials will decide which defendants should be prioritised.

Bournemouth Echo: The Ministry of Justice plan, known as Operation Early Dawn, began on Wednesday morningThe Ministry of Justice plan, known as Operation Early Dawn, began on Wednesday morning (Image: Danny Lawson/PA Wire)

A Ministry of Justice spokesman confirmed magistrates and police had been notified of the move as a result of extreme pressure on the prison system.

The spokesman told the BBC: “To manage this demand we have brought on thousands of extra places at pace and will introduce strategic oversight of the transfer of remanded offenders from police custody to magistrate courts to maintain the running of the justice system.

"This government is categorical that dangerous offenders should stay behind bars, which is why new laws will keep rapists locked up for every day of their prison sentence and ensure life means life for the most horrific murderers."

A post from the Law Society also confirmed the move, saying: “We have been made aware that from today the lord chancellor is triggering an emergency measure, Operation Early Dawn, to deal with the worsening problem of the prison population.

“We understand priority will be given to defendants in the most serious cases.

“We understand that defendants who are not prioritised will be released on police bail.”

Labour’s shadow justice secretary Shabana Mahmood criticised the plans, saying the public would be “alarmed”.

It comes a day after a watchdog warned dangerous criminals including a domestic abuser who posed a risk to children have been freed from jail early as part of a Government bid to cut overcrowding.

Chief inspector of prisons Charlie Taylor raised “serious concerns” about the policy as he highlighted examples of high-risk inmates selected for early release.

First announced last year, the Government insisted the measure would be temporary and would only allow “low-level offenders” out of prison up to 18 days early under strict supervision.

But earlier this month Mr Taylor described the prison system as “creaking at every level” as it emerged ministers were preparing to extend the scheme for a second time so some criminals could be freed from jail up to 70 days before their release date.

In a report published on Tuesday, Mr Taylor said a “high-risk” inmate at HMP Lewes, who posed a danger to children, had his release date brought forward despite “having a history of stalking, domestic abuse and being subject to a restraining order”.

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said: “While we will always ensure there is enough capacity to keep dangerous offenders behind bars, this scheme allows us to ease short-term pressures on prisons by moving some lower-level offenders at the end of their custodial term on to licence.

“These offenders will continue to be supervised under strict conditions such as tagging and curfews, and the prison service can block the earlier release of any individual who poses a heightened risk.”