Is it Illegal to Deny Prisoners Legal Aid?
Refusing prisoners legal aid in both England and Wales which would enable them to question the way in which they are held could be illegal according to the Court of Appeal.
The Howard League for Penal Reform and the Prisoners’ Advice Service (PAS) charities have both been given permission by senior judges to put forward a new case that questions the legality of the budgetary restrictions that were brought in by the Ministry of Justice.
It is likely that there could be many individuals who may find it difficult to take part if they do not have the support as a result of these decisions.
This could lead to the risk of incorrect and unlawful decision making as a result of not having the right access to assistance.
Through having legal representation removed, those inmates who suffer with mental health issues or learning difficulties could be at a disadvantage.
Next spring, a full hearing will take place where the issues will be put in front of the Court of Appeal but the restrictions we brought in under the 2012 Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act.
This lead to prisoners having no legal aid to pay for the representation they required as well as the advice they needed during parole board cases which were linked to them being granted open conditions and eventual release, there was entitlement to places in the mother and baby units, resettlement and licence conditions, segregation of inmates and some disciplinary proceedings.
According to lawyers for the Ministry of Justice, there is no requirement for legal aid funding at parole board hearings simply because of a lack of flexibility during the handling of the cases.
There have been numerous requests submitted to the Howard League for Penal Reform and PAS for assistance from both children and prisoners following the cuts and this has corresponded with the increase in suicides as well as shortage of staff.
The high court blocked a challenge made by the Howard League and PAS in March of 2014 but the decision was overturned by the court of appeal judges, Lord Justice Leveson, Lord Justice Tomlinson and Lady Justice Sharp.
The decision was welcomed by the Howard League for Penal Reform as it raises the hopes of children and young people who are in prison. The legal team of the Howard League has stood for many children who are in prison and they want to see them flourish whilst inside and when they are released and legal aid helps them to achieve this.
Equally, PAS are also happy with the decision because the access that prisoners have to justice has been severely reduced and the consequences have been serious as they have been isolated more than they already are.
This will mean that a full hearing will take place and a case for legal aid can be presented to help those who are deprived and at a disadvantage.
However, the point will still be argued as the Ministry of Justice believe that legal aid which is taxpayers’ money, should be used where necessary as opposed to being used for those prisoners who can be dealt with in other ways.
Darren Rogers – Chiltern Law