Nine months after the Court of Appeal ruled government cuts to legal aid for prisoners were unlawful the Ministry of Justice has confirmed that, from 21st February 2018, criminal legal aid will be extended to the three areas identified by the Court of Appeal as failing the fairness test without legal representation – and the four areas the government conceded before the case went to trial.
The Court ruled that the high threshold required for a finding of inherent or systemic unfairness was satisfied in the case of:
Pre-tariff reviews by the parole board,
Category A reviews (those whose escape would be highly dangerous), and
Decisions regarding placement in a Close Supervision Centre (CSC)
- Pre-tariff reviews are where an indeterminate sentence prisoner has been referred to the Parole Board by the Secretary of State for Justice before the expiry of his/her minimum term for advice on a move to open conditions.
- Category A is the highest security category. It is defined as prisoners “whose escape would be highly dangerous to the public, or the security of the State, and for whom the aim must be to make escape impossible”. Decisions to move prisoners from conditions of high security are complex and important.
- CSCs were introduced to deal with the most disruptive or dangerous prisoners, who pose a risk to other prisoners. The decision to place a prisoner in one of these centres, which creates a serious restriction on the prisoner at great expense to the public purse, is complex and important.
The threshold was not satisfied in relation to decisions about offending behaviour programmes and courses, and disciplinary proceedings where no additional days of imprisonment or detention can be awarded.
Before the hearing at the Court of Appeal, the government agreed that legal aid would be available for cases concerning:
Mother and baby units;
Licence conditions; and
What this means is that prisoners who require help and assistance in these seven areas of prison law can now approach any firm with a Criminal Contract and seek advice. They will have to go through the means and benefits tests like anyone else applying for legal aid funding, but they are now eligible to apply.
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