The MOJ Consultation Paper on ‘Transforming Legal Aid’ (CP14/2013) was published on 9 April 2013.
It will have a considerable impact on the provision of legal advice to prisoners and potentially on prison life more generally. It is available at;
The Consultation ends on the 4th June and we are therefore seeking your views, either as an individual or as an organisation and inviting you to write directly with any concerns you may have around the proposals in their current form.
The implementation of the proposals will, it is envisaged, be by way of statutory instrument, requiring no legislative change, and therefore no wider parliamentary debate or vote. It will be introduced as an amendment to Legal Aid Agency contracts to firms and organisations in Autumn 2013.
The reason given for the proposed changes
The rationale for the proposal is described in the Executive Summary as “proposals for improving public confidence in the legal aid scheme” and including “reforms to prison law to ensure that legal aid is not available for matters that do not justify the use of public funds such as treatment issues;” (para 1.5, p.5).
Summary of the effect that the proposals will have on prisoners
The main focus of the proposals (reference paragraph 3.14) within the prison law context is to reduce the of legal aid to parole cases (which remain because of the right to a review of on-going detention under article 5(4)), adjudication cases where article 6 is engaged, such as Independent Adjudications (IA), and sentence cases affecting length of sentence (eg Minimum Term Reviews).
The effect on the prison population, in terms of their access to legal advice and assistance, will be the ending of any legal help on all treatment issues.
Legal aid assistance will not therefore be available in respect of;
• any internal disciplinary matters such as adjudications where the IA is not involved or meets the Tarrant criteria and segregation;
• all categorisation cases (including cat A reviews, getting to open conditions and challenging removals from open conditions)
• resettlement and licence conditions cases
• close supervision centres and dangerous and severe personality disorder referrals and assessments
There appears to be no exemptions for children or vulnerable prisoners.
Prisoners especially are encouraged to respond to the consultation giving their own examples of why the above issues are important and any concerns they have with how the complaints system operates in prison, including their dealings with the IMB and the Prison and Probation Ombudsman. Finally any examples of where someone has been successfully assisted by a lawyer to challenge a unfair or unreasonable decision would also be helpful.
You and your families can write to MPs. You can respond directly to the consultation by writing to Annette Cowell, Ministry of Justice, 102 Petty France, London, SW1H 9AJ by 4th June 2013.
You can also contact the APL c/o Office 7, 19 Greenwood Place, London NW5 1LB. The website address is www.associationofprisonlawyers.co.uk. They are organising a response to the consultation and looking for examples of where legal advice has had a positive impact.