Government prisoner legal aid cuts judged ‘unlawful’ by Court of Appeal
Rules introduced by ministers to stop legal aid being granted to prisoners in certain situations have been deemed unlawful by the Court of Appeal
The three judges found rules around pre-tariff reviews by the Parole Board, category-A reviews, and decisions on placing inmates in close supervision centres, to be “inherently unfair”.
The judges’ unanimous verdict ruled that the government did not provide enough “alternative support” after stripping back legal aid.
“The consequence is that almost no changes have been introduced to replace the gap left by the removal of legal aid,” they said.
“We have concluded that, at a time when ... the evidence about prison staffing levels, the current state of prisons, and the workload of the Parole Board suggests that the system is under considerable pressure, the system has at present not got the capacity sufficiently to fill the gap in the run of cases in those three areas.”
Campaigners who challenged the cuts, which were introduced by then justice secretary Chris Grayling in 2013, hailed the judgment as a “groundbreaking victory”.
The successful appeal by the Howard League for Penal Reform and the Prisoners’ Advice Service could now pave the way for a judicial review.
Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “It vindicates our concerns that cuts imposed by the former lord chancellor, Chris Grayling, in 2013 presented a grave risk that prisoners would become stuck in a broken system.
“This sends a clear message that important decisions about prisoners cannot be made efficiently or fairly in the face of these cuts. We look forward to hearing from the Lord Chancellor with her plans to give effect to the judgment,” she added.
Deborah Russo, joint managing solicitor of the Prisoners’ Advice Service, said: “This is an unprecedented and groundbreaking legal victory in which the vulnerability of the prison population is fully recognised as a key factor in its limited ability to access justice. Common law came to the rescue of a marginalised and often forgotten sector of our society.”
A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: “We note the court of appeal’s judgment on changes made to legal aid regulations – introduced in 2013 – and will consider whether to appeal.”
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