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27 Jan 2017

Court of Appeal to hear charities’ challenge to legal aid cuts for prisoners

Case: R (Howard League for Penal Reform and Prisoners’ Advice Service) v Lord Chancellor
Where: Court of Appeal, London
When: 2pm on Tuesday 31 January

Cuts to legal aid for prisoners are unfair and unlawful, and have coincided with a deterioration in safety in prisons across England and Wales, the Court of Appeal will hear in the course of a two-day hearing next week (Tuesday 31 January).

In July 2015, the two charities – the Howard League for Penal Reform and the Prisoners’ Advice Service (PAS) – won the right to challenge the government’s decision to cut legal aid for prisoners, including children.  Next week, three Court of Appeal judges will finally hear the charities’ full arguments challenging the cuts.

Since the cuts came into force in December 2013, violence and self-injury in prisons have risen to record levels. Almost 300 people have lost their lives through suicide.

More prisoners than ever before have called the Howard League and PAS to seek help. Calls to the two charities’ advice lines have increased by almost 50 per cent since the cuts were imposed.

The impact of the policy has been far-reaching:

  • It means that a prisoner who is being considered for transfer to an open prison, but not release, cannot get legal representation unless they pay
  • It means that prisoners who are stuck in the system cannot get legal help to access the courses they need to become safe for release

The claimants’ skeleton argument in the case contends that: “Within the prison population are some of the most vulnerable members of society. There is a huge over-representation of the mentally unwell, those suffering from learning or other disability and the illiterate.

“For a proportion of those prisoners the removal of legal aid makes it impossible for them to engage fairly in decision making processes that will have a huge impact on their lives, rendering those decision making processes inherently unfair.”

Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “At a time when prisons are out of control, access to justice is more important than ever.

“We currently have a situation where a child or mentally ill person can be denied the option of asking for funded representation, even when they are struggling to progress through the convoluted prison system. This is unjust and must be challenged.”

Deborah Russo, Joint Managing Solicitor of the Prisoners’ Advice Service, said: “We are finally before the Court of Appeal on this important case and sincerely hope the Court will be able to see the plight of prisoners and how these swingeing cuts have so severely curtailed their ability to access justice.”

Notes to editors

  1. The Howard League for Penal Reform is the oldest penal reform charity in the world. It is a national charity working for less crime, safer communities and fewer people in prison.
  1. The Prisoners’ Advice Service is an independent registered charity which provides legal advice and information to prisoners in England and Wales regarding their rights, the application of the Prison Rules and conditions of imprisonment.
  1. The Howard League for Penal Reform and the Prisoners’ Advice Service are jointly represented in these cases by Simon Creighton of Bhatt Murphy Solicitors, Phillippa Kaufmann of Matrix Chambers, and Alex Gask of Doughty Street Chambers.


Rob Preece
Campaigns and Communications Manager
The Howard League for Penal Reform
Tel: +44 (0)20 7241 7880
Mobile: +44 (0)7714 604955
ISDN line available on 020 7923 4196 – uses a G722 system
For enquiries outside normal office hours, please call +44 (0)7918 681094

Deborah Russo
Joint Managing Solicitor
The Prisoners Advice Service
Tel: +44 (0)20 7253 3600

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