The court of appeal has ruled that inmates with mental health problems or learning difficulties could become disadvantaged if legal representation is removed.
It could become illegal to deny prisoners in England and Wales legal aid so that they are able to effectively challenge the conditions they are held under, rules the court of appeal, reports the Guardian.
Senior judges have granted two charities permission to bring a fresh case of questioning towards the legality of budgetary restrictions introduced by the Ministry of Justice.
Sir Brian Leveson has said: “There could be a significant number of individuals subject to these types of decisions for whom it may be very difficult to participate effectively without support from someone. It is arguable, therefore, that without the potential for access to appropriate assistance, the system could carry an unacceptable risk of unfair, and therefore unlawful, decision making.”
The court declared that the removal of legal representation for inmates with mental health problems or learning disabilities could be put at a particular disadvantage.
A full hearing of the issues before the court of appeal has been scheduled for next spring.
Frances Crook, the chief executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: “We welcome today’s decision, which offers hope to children and young people in prison. The Howard League’s legal team has represented many hundreds of children in prison and we want them to thrive inside and on release. Legal aid gets them the best help to achieve that.”
Deborah Russo, the joint managing solicitor at PAS, said: “We are delighted with the outcome of today’s hearing. The legal aid cuts to prison law have resulted in prisoners’ access to justice being severely curtailed with the consequence of further isolating an already very marginalised sector of our society. We therefore welcome today’s judgment, which now allows for a full hearing of the case and are thrilled to be now given the opportunity to put forward our case for legal aid for the most deprived and disadvantaged of prisoners.”
A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: ”We welcome the fact that the court has narrowed what was a wide-ranging claim to just one issue. Legal aid is taxpayers’ money and should be used where really necessary, not for issues from prisoners that can be fairly dealt with by other means. We will continue to argue this point in court.”
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