“We can well understand the concerns ventilated through these claims,” ruled Mr Justice Cranston; adding that “a range of impressive commentators” have argued that the changes to criminal legal aid for prison law in the Criminal Aid (General) (Amendment) Regulations 2013, SI 2013, No 2790 would have “serious adverse effects for prisoners”. “But we simply cannot see, at least at this point in time, how these concerns can arguably constitute unlawful action by the Lord Chancellor. For the time being the forum for advancing these concerns remains the political. Permission is given to cite this judgment.”
- See HERE on LegalVoice for background to the claim.
According to the Howard League, the court appeared to accept the arguments from the Lord Chancellor that prisoners could use the complaints system and, ultimately, judicial review while at the same time accepting that all these mechanisms “have their drawbacks and gaps” and that “none may match the assistance which has been provided by lawyers, including those from the claimants, under the existing system of criminal legal aid for prison law”.
“The court completely failed to address how unfairness would not arise in particular situations where prisoners are unrepresented,” commented Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform. “These include parole board hearings where secret evidence is used against the prisoner or other cases which turn on expert evidence that cannot be commissioned without legal representation and funding.”
Deborah Russo, joint managing solicitor at PAS said hat the group was “deeply disappointed with this judgment, which fails to respond to the increased unfairness prisoners now face as a result of the latest round of legal aid cuts”. “The Court is right to say that this is a political issue; however that does not mean that it is one in which the law cannot intervene if prisoners’ fundamental rights of access to legal remedies are being breached. We intend to appeal the judgment and will continue to press for these cuts to be reversed and for prisoners to be provided with adequate advice and representation to defend their legal rights.”