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5 Mar 2014

Howard League for Penal Reform and Prisoners’ Advice Service seek permission for judicial reviews against cuts to legal aid

Two charities will go to court tomorrow (6 March) to seek permission to challenge the government’s decision to cut legal aid for prisoners.

The Howard League for Penal Reform and the Prisoners’ Advice Service (PAS) have taken legal action as a last resort after the Justice Secretary dismissed concerns that the cuts would undermine prisoners’ rights and rehabilitation and cost the taxpayer more.

The High Court has ordered the two separate but linked judicial reviews to be considered at an oral hearing.

Although the two cases concern different aspects of prison law, they both challenge restrictions to legal aid for prisoners imposed by the government in December 2013.

The first case argues that the removal of legal aid for a small number of important Parole Board cases is unlawful. The second argues that the removal of legal aid for a range of cases affecting prisoners’ progress through their sentence towards release is also unlawful.

The decision to cut legal aid for certain 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. 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. Managing people through long prison sentences is a skilful business which needs to be handled with extreme care so that they can resettle safely into the community.

Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “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. 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.”

Deborah Russo, Joint Managing Solicitor at the Prisoners’ Advice Service, said: “PAS provides legal advice to all adult prisoners in England and Wales. We run an advice line and receive thousands of letters and telephone calls from prisoners each year. PAS also represents prisoners by taking on legal cases where appropriate. The legal aid cuts to prison law have resulted in prisoners’ access to justice being severely curtailed. 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.”

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.
  2. 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.
  3. The High Court itself decided that the two cases should be argued at an oral hearing. This is different from most other requests for permission for a judicial review, which are either granted or rejected based on the strength of written submissions to the court.
  4. 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 Martha Spurrier and Alex Gask of Doughty Street Chambers.

Further information

Rob Preece
Press Officer
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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