Legal aid for prisoners to be reinstated following challenge by prison charitites

By Agencies
February 21, 2018

Legal aid is to be be reinstated for three key areas of prison law, after the cuts were successfully challenged in court by the Howard League for Penal Reform and the Prisoners’ Advice Service.

The two charities brought a judicial review more than four years ago following the decision of the then Lord Chancellor, Chris Grayling, to remove almost all areas of legal aid for prisoners. The cuts were ruled to be unlawful by the Court of Appeal in April last year.

The changes are to be implemented through a statutory instrument, effective from 21 February 2017. It is the first time that any areas of law have been brought back into the scope of legal aid since the cuts came into force in December 2013.

In the years since the cuts were introduced, violence and self-injury in prisons have risen to record levels, with more prisoners than ever before calling the Howard League and the Prisoners’ Advice Service to seek help.

Calls to the Howard League legal advice line have increased by 62 per cent since the cuts came into force. Calls to the Prisoners’ Advice Service increased from 14,000 to 25,000 in 2017.

The government initially applied to appeal the Court of Appeal’s ruling, but ministers withdrew the application in October last year.

Laura Janes, Legal Director at the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “The cuts have coincided with record high prison numbers, self-injury and suicide rates. For those of us who visit prisons week in and week out, as I do, it has never been so grim, even for children.

“The government has paid heed to the judgment, and we hope that it will make a positive difference. Our concern is that during the years of drought, as with other areas of legal aid, many providers have given up or lost their expertise.

“The Howard League has tried its best to weather the storm, at great financial cost and creating a huge burden on our staff.”

Deborah Russo, Joint Managing Solicitor of the Prisoners’ Advice Service, said: “Successive governments have cut the legal aid budget to the bone and we are therefore extremely pleased to have won this reversal of a part of that cut. Many of our clients are in high security prisons and in desperate need of legal aid in order to make representations about decisions regarding their Category A status or placement in Close Supervision Centres. Even more so are lifers and indeterminate sentence prisoners who, since the last round of prison law legal aid cuts until now, have faced pre-tariff reviews of their sentence either unrepresented or having to pay lawyers to attend their hearings.

“This is clearly only part of the fight to re-establish a decent, fair and universal legal aid system; however it is a step in the right direction, which we are proud to have been able to take.”

* Prisoners' Advice Service

*The  Howard League for Penal Reform


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