Prison law judicial review continues
The Howard League for Penal Reform and the Prisoners’ Advice Service have appealed the High Court’s decision to reject their application for permission to challenge the government’s decision to cut legal aid for prison law cases (R (Howard League for Penal Reform and Prisoners’ Advice Service) v Lord Chancellor  EWHC 709 (Admin), 17 March 2014) (see page 5 of this issue). The court found that while the changes to criminal legal aid for prison law in the Criminal Legal Aid (General) (Amendment) Regulations 2013 SI No 2790 may have ‘serious adverse effects’ on prisoners, the policy is a political decision rather than unlawful action by the Lord Chancellor (para 54). Cranston J said that the position of the European Court of Human Rights was clear: the provision of legal aid was not mandatory other than in ‘exceptional cases’ (para 47).
The cuts were introduced by the government as part of a package of measures announced in April 2013 that were intended to cut £220m from the legal aid budget. The above legislation to implement the cut came into force in December 2013.
Laura Janes, legal co-director at the Howard League, told LAG that she was surprised at the court’s decision given that there had been over three hours of complex legal argument at the hearing. She was also critical of the Lord Chancellor, Chris Grayling, for using a negative statutory instrument that was not subject to detailed parliamentary scrutiny, who through this device had ‘created a scheme which is inherently unfair. The courts should intervene’.