To: Nigel Newcomen – Prisons and Probation Ombudsman for England and Wales
From: Mark Leech, Editor: The Prisons Handbook for England and Wales
Ref: Proposals to reduce prison law legal aid
Date: 16th April 2013
You will be aware that the Justice Secretary has announced proposals for a savage reduction in prison law legal aid with, as a result, more prisoners petitioning your Office for help.
If these cuts go through it will result in huge unfairness to prisoners – and it risks unrest in prisons too.
Lord Bridge of Harwich notably once remarked ” Nothing, I believe, is so likely to generate unrest among ordinary prisoners as a sense that they have been treated unfairly and have no effective means of redress – if a prisoner has a genuine grievance…his right to petition a faceless authority in Whitehall for a remedy will not be of much comfort to him.”
Those in custody should have free access to the courts to challenge their treatment and detention, and these proposals strike right at the heart of that principle.
There is also something distinctly unfair about a Government (which is normally the defendant in prisoner legal challenges) exercising Parliamentary powers to prevent those challenges being brought rather than having to defend their actions in open court – let us not forget in judicial review a High Court Judge has to agree that there is a case before the case can even be listed.
The Government’s proposals envisage a large increase in the use of the internal complaints system which ultimately ends with you – but your Office in unable to cope with the levels of complaints it currently receives, and surely it is therefore a nonsense to expect you to deal with even more?
There is also the point that few prisoners have any real faith in you or your alleged independence – I do not impute bad faith but you must realise that appointing you as Prisons Ombudsman when you had worked for 20 years in the very Prison Service (indeed rising to an Assistant Director within it) that you are now charged with independently investigating, was a disastrous decision for the perception of independence in your Office and small wonder too why faith in it has simply failed to develop.
Imagine the uproar if the Head of the Independent Police Complaints Commission was a former Assistant Chief Constable.
You know all of this already of course, because you and I have had these discussions many times.
Each time however you insist you are independent – well here is your chance to prove it.
Click the link below to sign our e-petition launched today calling on the Government to scrap its plans to reduce prison law legal aid – will you do it?
-- Mark Leech FRSA. M.InstPL Director Prisons Org UK Ltd PO Box 757 Stockport SK2 9AS Tel: 08450 660011 Fax: 08450 660022