The High Court ordered two separate but linked judicial reviews to be considered. The two cases concern different aspects of prison law: the first relates to the removal of legal aid for a small number of parole board cases and the second concerns the removal of legal aid for a range of cases affecting prisoners’ progress through their sentence towards release.
In a session before the House of Commons’ justice committee last year, Chris Grayling described his plans to cut legal aid for prisoners as ‘ideological’.
‘I do not think prisoners should be able to go to court to debate which prison they sent to,’ he told the MPs. When pressed by Jeremy Corbyn about cases where prisoners claimed ill-treatment or suffered neglect as a result of medical conditions. Grayling replied: ‘I think these are matters for an ombudsman. What we are seeing is the area of prison law expanding dramatically. It has more than doubled in the last few years and, in my view, it now covers areas that it should not.’
According to a statement by the Howard League and PAS, the decision to cut legal aid for parole board cases was made without consultation. ‘These cases affect prisoners on life sentences and IPPs who can only progress to open conditions if the Parole Board advises that it would be safe for them to do so,’ they explained. ‘This is important because, once in open conditions, prisoners can apply to do work and receive education in the community. This step is key for prisoners’ rehabilitation and public safety. Making prisoners go through this stage without legal advice and representation is counter-productive.’
The second case to be considered by the court concerns the removal of legal aid for prisoners facing particular difficulties such as mothers threatened with separation from their babies, children and disabled prisoners who need a support package so they can be released safely, and mentally ill prisoners held in isolation.
‘The legal aid cuts to prison law have resulted in prisoners’ access to justice being severely curtailed,’ said Deborah Russo, PAS’s joint managing solicitor. ‘The Prisons and Probation Ombudsman, the Chief Inspectorate of Prisons and the Parole Board have all expressed grave concern at legal aid being cut for prisoners. These cuts are further isolating an already very marginalised sector of our society.’
‘Our legal team represents children and young people in prison. The removal of legal aid to help these children make fresh starts is contrary to the whole aim of the youth justice system which is to prevent reoffending,’ commented Frances Crook, chief exec of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: ‘These cuts will not result in savings for the taxpayer. On the contrary, they will result in increased costs as children remain in prison for longer than is necessary for want of a safe home to go to.’
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