On 10th April, the Court of Appeal ruled that the cuts in legal aid for prisoners are unlawful because they are ultimately unfair.
This appeal was brought about after challenges were made by two charities when the cuts first occurred in December 2013.
The legal challenges were brought about by Howard League for Penal Reform, a reform charity working for safer communities and fewer people in prison, and the Prisoners' Advice Service, a charity offering free legal advice and support to adult prisoners. They argued that without access to legal aid, vulnerable prisoners with learning difficulties or mental illness would not be able to effectively communicate important decisions about their future, placing them at a significant disadvantage.
The judges found the cuts were "inherently unfair" in three instances, which are:
- Parole Board hearings to decide if prisoners on indeterminate sentences are ready to be transferred to open prisons
- Reviews of Category A prisoners (prisoners of high security, “whose escape would be highly dangerous to the public”)
- Decisions about placing prisoners in specialist secure units within prisons.
Since the Legal aid cuts for prisoners came into effect, almost 300 people have lost their lives through suicide in prisons, and violence is at a record high. Access to legal advice through legal aid makes prisons fairer and safer, and results in more rehabilitated prisoners; the decision to cut legal aid ultimately undermined prisoners’ rights and rehabilitation.
Both charities have campaigned for the new ruling, challenging the cuts to three Court of Appeal Judges in January and February 2017. They stated that “allowing all prisoners equal access to justice is the hallmark of a civilised society”. The new appeal shows that common law came to the rescue of an often forgotten sector of society.
The judgment relied heavily on the evidence provided by APL members (The Association of Prison Lawyers) to reach its conclusions that the system was inherently unfair. The APL is committed to maintaining the highest level of professionalism in representing clients in prison.
We at Broudie Jackson Canter are passionate about the right to be represented so of course we support this ruling. The right to be represented where your liberty is at stake is a measure of a civilised democratic society. But it goes beyond even the right to be represented – it is about the safety and security of the public at large so that the transitions for the most dangerous of prisoners from being locked up 24/7 to being released at the end of their sentence is carried out in a staged and measured way which in turn significantly reduces the risk of re-offending. This benefits us all.
Our Crime and Prison Law department is dedicated to making a difference for prisoners who are vulnerable or in need help. If you’d like to discuss any of the issues raised, please call the team today on 0333 321 4580 or email email@example.com.