Legal aid prison cuts could pose ‘unacceptable risk’

Sketch of Sir Brian Leveson by Isobel Williams www.isobelwilliams.org.uk
Sketch of Sir Brian Leveson by Isobel Williams www.isobelwilliams.org.uk

The Howard League for Penal Reform and the Prisoners’ Advice Service have been granted permission to bring a fresh judicial review into the legality of the cuts to legal aid for prisoners. Unlike other areas of law where exceptional case funding is available, the non-availability of aid in these cases is absolute.

In a decision – handed down by Lord Justice Leveson, Lord Justice Tomlinson and Lady Justice Sharp –  it was ruled that an ‘unacceptable risk of unfairness’ could be attached to seven areas of work currently out of scope, including:

  • cases where prisoners appear before the Parole Board about their suitability for a move to open prison (but not release)
  • cases about pregnant prisoners being allocated to mother and baby units;
  • segregation;
  • access to offending behaviour work;and
  • having a suitable home to go to on release from prison.

In making the judgment, Sir Brian Leveson pointed out that without legal aid, those affected by decisions would struggle to participate in the process and stated:

‘It is arguable, therefore, that without the potential for access to appropriate assistance, the system could carry an unacceptable risk of unfair, and therefore unlawful, decision making.’

He concluded by stating that ‘mechanisms’ should be in place to account for the increased risk of those particularly vulnerable falling victim to unfair decisions.

The decision was welcomed by each of the charities, with chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform Frances Crook describing it as one which ‘offers hope’.  Deborah Russo, Joint Managing Solicitor at the PAS accused the cuts of ‘further isolating an already very marginalised sector of our society’.

 

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