The Ministry of Justice has confirmed that legal aid will be restored for three areas of prison law from next month.
In a letter sent to the Howard League for Penal Reform, the MoJ confirmed that a statutory instrument had been laid before parliament making arrangements for the changes to the scheme to come into force on February 21.
— Frances Crook (@francescrook) January 2, 2018
Back in 2013 Chris Grayling introduced unprecedented cuts to the legal aid scheme for prisoners. The government argued it was ‘putting a stop to prisoners receiving criminal legal aid where their issues can be dealt with by the existing complaints system – like a prisoner appealing against the category of prison in which they are held, or a decision to move them to a different section within a prison, or taking legal action over issues like visits or correspondence’.
The then Lord Chancellor Grayling described his decision as ‘ideological’ in a session before the House of Commons’ justice committee. ‘I do not think prisoners should be able to go to court to debate which prison they have been sent to’, he told MPs. When pressed by Jeremy Corbyn, now leader of the Labour party, about prisoners claiming ill-treatment or suffering neglect as a result of medical conditions, Grayling replied that they were ‘matters for an ombudsman’.
The exchange prompted the following observation from the human rights lawyer barrister Baroness Helena Kennedy: ‘It is as though it is not enough to go to prison and lose your liberty, and experience the deprivations that we know imprisonment means, so we are looking for other ways to punish.’ Lord Pannick QC said that Grayling’s cuts threatened to ‘reverse 35 years of progress’ in the approach adopted by the legal system to the treatment of prisoners which began in 1978 following the Hull prison riots.
In April last year the Court of Appeal ruled that the cuts were unlawful, following a legal challenge by the Howard League for Penal Reform and the Prisoners’ Advice Service. The Ministry of Justice has told the press that the landmark ruling did not mean the government must immediately reinstate legal aid.
For background on Legal Voice, see here.
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