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Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Greens welcome 'landmark' legal aid ruling

Green Party leader Natalie Bennett has welcomed yesterday’s "landmark" decision by the Court of Appeal to allow The Howard League for Penal Reform and the Prisoners’ Advice Service (PAS) to challenge legal aid cuts for prisoners after ruling there was a risk that the system could be unfair and unlawful.

A challenge by the Howard League and PAS was blocked by the High Court in March 2014 – but that decision was today overturned by Court of Appeal judges Lord Justice Leveson, Lord Justice Tomlinson and Lady Justice Sharp. The Court of Appeal’s decision means that the case can now proceed to a full trial.

Green Party leader Natalie Bennett said: "This is a landmark decision in the fight against the government’s cuts to Legal Aid, which are an affront to people’s right to access justice. This right should be available to everyone in society, without discrimination. I am pleased the Court of Appeal has acknowledged the Legal Aid cuts deserve full judicial consideration. A society's humanity can be judged by its treatment of the most vulnerable and the most difficult cases. I hope this decision paves the way for everyone to be able to achieve full access to justice."

Charley Pattison, Green Party Justice Spokesperson, said: "This decision is very encouraging. In its decision, the Court of Appeal has recognised the inherent unfairness of the legal aid cuts, particularly for the most vulnerable in society, such as those with mental health problems and learning difficulties. The fact that this case can proceed to full trial fills me with cautious optimism.”

The charities argued in court that there were seven key areas of work cut from the ambit of legal aid that carry an unacceptable risk of unfairness. These included:
  • cases where prisoners appear before the Parole Board about their suitability for a move to open prison (but not release); 
  • cases about pregnant prisoners being allocated to mother and baby units;
  • segregation; 
  • access to offending behaviour work; 
  • having a suitable home to go to on release from prison.

Unlike other cuts to legal aid, where a safety net was introduced to allow people to apply for legal aid in exceptional circumstances, the cuts for prisoners were absolute: there is no lifeline for even the most vulnerable or incapacitated prisoner to apply for legal aid for prison law matters.