Dominic Hewitt HMP Chelmsford
I feel broken.
No justice here for me, no help, no one cares enough. I am one of 8,000 lost souls. I pray to my maker to help me in my suffering and show me that there is light at the end of this journey. Six-years of my life ‘lost at sea’, no positivity, a distraught feeling has taken over my wellbeing. The sentence handed down was three-years and seven-months – I have now served ten-years.
Adrian G – HMP Leyhill
Level playing field?
I am British born and bred, serving a 13-year sentence on which I will be released at the halfway point, to serve the remainder on license under Probation. I was informed that the time on license is part of my sentence. My question is, why do foreign nationals (who may have committed the exact same crime as me) get returned to their countries, with no license conditions, at the halfway point of their sentence? I have witnessed foreign national IPP’s and lifers sent home once they reach their tariff, while UK-born prisoners are left to rot in the system. I feel that British prisoners are being discriminated against for having been born here. Where is the equality?
Mr MD – HMP Buckley Hall
I’d like to highlight my own plight, and that of the many prisoners I have met over the years. The injustice I have experienced and witnessed has been done by "prison-based psychologists". The damage they cause is outrageous. I have seen some of my friends take their own lives when they have lost all hope. Why are we inflicted with these charlatans?
Tom SW – HMP Northumberland
Begging for rehabilitation
I have been here for 8-months and I have yet to see one person in authority who is here to rehabilitate me or even talk to me about why I am here and what they can do to help. It has actually got to the point where I am chasing my OMU worker. I have submitted 7 apps and never had a single reply. I hear all those toffs in Parliament saying that prison is to punish and rehabilitate – I’m getting the punishment bit, but where the hell is my rehabilitation?
James L – HMP HighpointStop
fiddling around the edges
Recently, The Sun on Sunday published an exclusive interview with Justice Secretary, Liz Truss, in which she drones on about reoffending, violence, lack of staff, etc… and her plan to combat this? ‘English and maths lessons to help offenders find work on release…’ I’ve got news for Ms Truss, basic English and maths do not get you a job, and nor does learning basic computer skills. She should know this, as should anybody with a bit of common sense.
Mr C – HMP Bure
Give and take
The trouble with prisons of late, or at least one of the problems, is some unconsidered political decisions have been made by all involved. The ‘new measures’ from Justice Minister Liz Truss do not seem to be any better. Poor ideas, very poorly thought out. The smoking ban has caused a lot of stress and anger. Decisions affecting thousands of prisoners should be very carefully considered, as should their implementation. Perhaps it is time to start giving a little bit, instead of taking, taking, taking for years on end.
Samuel M – HMP Wandsworth Victorian values
The mailbag, ‘Give me shelter’ (March issue) rang a bell with me as I too was released to live on the streets on license. Even though part of my license was for NOMS/Probation to know where I sleep every night. They didn’t care. I lived on the streets for 3 months before being recalled to prison for apparently ‘not staying at a suitable address’, even though they knew I was sleeping in a shop-doorway a few doors away from Twickenham police station. For some reason, they allowed me to sleep rough for 3 months before recalling me. There is even a section on the license that says the released prisoner must have ‘a suitable address that is approved by Probation’. What is the point of that claptrap? When will the system grasp the nettle, and admit that homelessness leads to reoffending? This needs to be properly addressed by those in power. It is 2017 and we are still operating like the Victorians.
Cuts to legal aid for people in prison ruled unlawful by Court of Appeal “Common law came to the rescue of a marginalised and often forgotten sector of our society.”Deborah Russo, Prisoners’ Advice Service
“Evidence about prison staffing levels, the current state of prisons, and the workload of the Parole Board suggests that the system is under considerable pressure.” Lord Justice Beatson delivering judgement
Government cuts to legal aid for prisoners, instigated by Chris Grayling in 2013 when he was Justice Secretary, were ruled unlawful because they are inherently unfair, the Court of Appeal ruled last month. The judgement came as a result of a challenge brought by the Prisoners’ Advice Service (PAS) and the Howard League for Penal Reform.
The ruling is an important step forward in making sure that people in prison move through the system more safely and more efficiently. Since cuts to legal aid for prisoners came into force in December 2013, violence and self-injury in prisons have risen to record levels and more prisoners than ever before have called the Howard League and PAS to seek help. Calls to the two charities’ advice lines have increased by almost 50 per cent since the cuts were imposed.
The legal challenge by the Howard League and PAS began in 2013. At that time, prisoners were completely shut out from any possibility of getting legal aid for a wide range of problems. In the time between then and the cases coming before the Court of Appeal in January and February this year, the government conceded on four areas of concern. This left five key problems for the Court of Appeal to consider and, in three of the five, judges found the cuts to be inherently unfair.
“This decision will make the public safer. It vindicates our concerns that cuts imposed by the former Lord Chancellor, Chris Grayling, in 2013 presented a grave risk that prisoners would become stuck in a broken system,” said Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, adding, “This sends a clear message that important decisions about prisoners cannot be made efficiently or fairly in the face of these cuts. We look forward to hearing from the Lord Chancellor with her plans to give effect to the judgment.”
Court of Appeal rules Government’s policy of legal aid cuts for prisoners ‘Unlawful’
Ministers insist they are not obliged immediately to act on the ruling following the ‘unprecedented and groundbreaking’ judgment
In R (Howard League for Penal Reform and the Prisoners’ Advice Service) v the Lord Chancellor, the Court of Appeal considered five areas of prison law where the Ministry of Justice removed criminal legal aid eligibility in December 2013.
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 close supervision centres.
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.
Following the judgment, a spokesperson for the ministry said: “We note the Court of Appeal’s judgment on changes made to legal aid regulations – introduced in 2013 – and will consider whether to appeal.”
Eligibility for criminal legal aid in certain prison law matters was removed in December 2013. Deborah Russo, joint managing solicitor of the Prisoners’ Advice Service, said the ruling was an “unprecedented and groundbreaking legal victory in which the vulnerability of the prison population is fully recognised as a key factor in its limited ability to access justice”.
She added: “Common law came to the rescue of a marginalised and often forgotten sector of our society.”
According to the Howard League for Penal Reform, almost 300 people have taken their own lives since cuts to legal aid for prisoners were introduced. Calls to the Howard League for Penal Reform and the Prisoners’ Advice Service have increased by nearly 50%.
Frances Crook, chief executive of the Howard League, said: “This decision will make the public safer. It vindicates our concerns that cuts imposed by the former Lord Chancellor, Chris Grayling, in 2013 presented a grave risk that prisoners would become stuck in a broken system. This sends a clear message that important decisions about prisoners cannot be made efficiently or fairly in the face of these cuts.”
However, the ministry stressed that the judgment does not mean the government must immediately reinstate legal aid in the three areas where the threshold for inherent or systemic unfairness was satisfied, noting that this is one option.
Cuts were political
Workload increased dramatically after legal aid cuts Prisoners Advice Service tells Inside Time
Since 2013 when Chris Grayling brought in the cuts we saw a stark increase in the number of prisoners approaching us with telephone calls; increasing almost 50% in the last year alone to 25,000. Our workload increased massively. Because of the fact that legal aid was not available it made telephone calls longer because, instead of small queries, it was quite complicated issues. Because of mental health issues in prison it would mean, more often than not, we’d have to intervene by contacting governors urgently to ensure prisoners’ well being is looked after and respected. It had a huge impact on our capacity to take cases because we deal with so many pro bono cases now.
It could be that some prisoners are serving longer in prison because of the cuts.
Mainly in the case of pre-tariff prisoners who might not have assistance which is quite crucial so that they can look forwards to a move to open conditions. Because of the cuts and lack of representation it could affect the length of time they end up serving post-tariff.
“It would cost more to keep them in prison longer so it was not an economical decision, it was a political one”
The judgement says that in the three areas of pre-tariff reviews, category ‘A’ reviews and placement if CSC (Close supervision) units the cuts are inherently unfair particularly if prisoners have mental health issues Legal Aid will have to be reinstated.
Now we are at the stage where we will have to negotiate with the Government as to the extent of the Legal Aid which will have to be reinstated. We will do our best to ensure it is as comprehensive as possible.Deborah Russo – Deborah Russo is joint managing solicitor at the Prisoners Advice
Everyone deserves justice
Cuts that form the focus of the judgment “just the tip of the iceberg”
Many prisoners were affected by the legal aid cuts. The Howard League works for less crime, safer communities and few people in prison. Individuals being able to achieve justice is central to achieving these objectives. The Howard League decided to bring the case in our own name, along with PAS, because the removal of legal aid was wrong. It shifted the use of law away from what it is meant to be: something that is available to everyone to achieve justice. We also run a legal service for children and young people under 21, many of whom were directly affected by the cuts.
We run a free and confidential legal advice line for people under the age of 21. Our legal workload increased by around 50 per cent since the cuts came in. But it was not just that the number of calls increased: the amount of additional work we did for free went up because there was simply nobody else who could afford to do it. Many other lawyers such as the brilliant lawyers who represented us, Bhatt Murphy, in the legal aid community also stepped in. One of the nicest things about the judgment is the annex which sets out all the lawyers that provided statements of support for the case, many of whom represented clients for free due to the cuts.
Large numbers of prisoners are serving longer in prison because of the cuts. The cuts that form the focus of the judgment are just the tip of the iceberg. Our lawyer, Simon Creighton, has calculated that through the litigation around 85 per cent of the original cuts have been either declared unlawful or conceded. The issues, which range from pre-tariff reviews to licence conditions, all touch on liberty in one way or another.
The Howard League would like to see the Lord Chancellor accept the Court of Appeal’s ruling and bring these areas back into the scope of legal aid. It is possible the government will appeal the ruling, but I would hope that the Government takes heed of the careful and thoughtful judgment and does the right thing.– Dr Laura Janes is the Legal Director and solicitor at the Howard League for Penal Reform.
The F Word
“Prisoners want and are entitled to fair hearings”
Four years is a long time. Chris Grayling’s Ministry of Justice announced sweeping cuts to legal aid in April 2013 in a document called Transforming Legal Aid. Grayling’s idea of transformation differed from most.
He ignored several thousand consultation responses which pointed out the risks and unfairness of his proposals. Legal aid was removed from a raft of areas, leaving courts overwhelmed by unrepresented prisoners and arguably denying many people on low or no incomes from access to justice.
Grayling declared himself ideologically opposed to legal aid for prisoners and promised that the prisons complaints system would do just as good a job.
The Prisoners Advice Service and the Howard League began their challenge to the legal aid cuts in the autumn of 2013. The wheels of justice can be painfully slow. This case has taken a huge amount of persistence on the part of the two charities and their lawyers. It is not an easy task to persuade a Court that government policy is unlawful. The High Court refused permission for the challenge in 2014, the Court of Appeal overturned this decision in 2015 (allowing the challenge to proceed to a full hearing) and the case was heard at the start of 2017.
What did the case decide?
The Court of Appeal were persuaded that there was ‘inherent and systemic unfairness’ in the decision to remove legal aid for all prisoners in 3 categories of cases – pre-tariff reviews by the Parole Board, category A reviews, and decisions to place prisoners in Close Supervision Centres.
The key reason for this finding was that the Court was not satisfied that there were alternative means in place to ensure prisoners could participate effectively in these decision-making processes, particularly for vulnerable prisoners including those with learning difficulties or mental health problems.
Does this mean that prisoners can now get legal aid in these areas?
At the moment, the answer to that is no. At the time of writing this article, the Ministry of Justice has not confirmed whether or not they will appeal. If they do decide to appeal, it is likely to drag the case out for at least another year. I suspect that they will not appeal against the decision but I am afraid this does not mean that they will take prompt steps to restore legal aid in these areas.
The Ministry’s response to the judgment was not encouraging. They appear to have latched on to comments in the Court of Appeal’s judgment recognising that “there may be safeguards other than legal aid”.
Do not expect any announcement any time soon. The political world is obsessed with Brexit and now with another General Election. Politics will soon go into purdah – a period in which no new policy is decided, a kind of political hibernation. This will end when a new government is appointed. New governments usually mean new ministerial appointments, even if the same government is elected. A department which is traditionally slow to implement change is likely to be even more tortoise-like in these circumstances. Restoring legal aid to prisoners is unlikely to be high on the agenda, even with a Court of Appeal judgment declaring a policy to be unlawful.
The quickest, fairest and probably cheapest option would be to make a simple change to legal aid regulations. One alternative to this would be to shunt these areas into the world of ‘exceptional funding’. Legal aid practitioners are familiar with what exceptional funding means. The clue is in the name. There is a long-winded, labyrinthine process which puts many people off from applying for it. Legal aid practitioners have already had to find ways of absorbing a nearly 10% cut in the payment rates for their work.
It is asking a lot to expect them to spend valuable time for which they will be paid nothing in the hope that a small amount of funding will be granted for them to take on a relatively complex case. The Ministry are likely to be attracted by an option which puts the onus on the prisoner to show why they are exceptional – for example that they cannot read, understand basic concepts or have a communication disability. The irony of expecting such prisoners to complete a lengthy form applying for exceptional funding should be obvious to anyone.
Another alternative would be The Long Grass Response. This is the process by which the Ministry of Justice announces that it is exploring options, consulting stakeholders and piloting alternatives. They might think about trying to tap into the largesse of well-meaning charities or pro bono groups which develop to fill gaps in need. Such organisations should give some thought to what they are getting into if they are approached to fill this gap.
Providing meaningful assistance to prisoners for pre-tariff, category A and CSC reviews is not easy. It requires the development of expertise. Good advocates will need to understand the legal and procedural framework for the different types of decision-making. They will need to have methods of communicating effectively with prisoners in closed prisons, many of whom may have mental health or learning difficulties. Their clients may be challenging and might not agree with them. They may need to commission expert reports. Psychologists and psychiatrists do not often work for free.
Organisations who are approached to fill this unfairness gap may also want to reflect upon whether their desire to support prisoners or to provide learning experience for students or budding lawyers might cloud their judgment. The Ministry has demonstrated an eagerness to take advantage of such groups. In the Court of Appeal case, they argued that the Prisoners Advice Service – one of their opponents in the case – could cure any unfairness by providing free advice and help to prisoners who could not get legal aid.
Presenting a case well is a skill. You need to know how to analyse evidence, to question witnesses, to apply the law, to appreciate which are good arguments to make and which are pointless or counter-productive. Good prison lawyers have spent years learning and perfecting these skills. That is why prisoners instruct them.Andrew Sperling – Andrew Sperling is a Consultant Solicitor-Advocate with Olliers Solicitors. He is a former Chair of the Association of Prison Lawyers and was commissioned to work on projects for the Parole Board between 2014 and 2015.
System could not ensure fairness
But may be some time before legal aid restored
The Court of Appeal’s judgment on the availability of legal aid for prisoners was given on 10 April 2017. Simon Creighton of Bhatt Murphy Solicitors acted for the two charities who brought the case and explains what the case was about and what this decision will mean in practice.
What was the case about?
In December 2013, the Government limited legal aid for prisoners to a very small category of cases. These were parole reviews when the Parole Board has the power to direct release, adjudications before the Independent Adjudicator or where a governor has allowed representation under the Tarrant criteria and sentence calculation cases.
The Howard League and PAS argued that by removing legal aid for all other areas, prisoners would run the risk of unfairness when important decisions were made that could affect their liberty or their fundamental rights. The areas they specifically challenged were: (1) Parole hearings where the Parole Board is advising on open conditions (or ‘pre-tariff reviews’); (2) Category A reviews; (3) Segregation and CSC decisions; (4) Mother and Baby unit cases; (5) Resettlement cases; (6) Licence conditions; (7) All governors’ adjudications; (8) Sentence planning.
What did the Court decide?
Before the case even reached a hearing, the Government accepted that some form of legal aid should be available for a number of these areas. They agreed that those areas which have the potential to engage rights under the Human Rights Act, such as the right to a private and family life, should have legal aid available. This meant that a form of legal aid called ‘exceptional case funding’ was extended to cover cases concerning segregation, Mother and Baby units, resettlement and licence conditions. Exceptional case funding is not automatic and an individual application has to be made showing how your rights have been infringed and why legal representation is necessary to ensure you are treated fairly.
“Access to legal advice for prisoners makes prisons fairer, safer and better at rehabilitating prisoners. This was first recognised in the Woolf Report a quarter of a century ago and this judgment underlines that it is still true today.”
At the hearing, the judges decided that the decision to remove legal aid combined with the deterioration in prison conditions meant that the system could not ensure fairness for prisoners when important decisions are made about them. The Court was particularly concerned that prisoners who are vulnerable, including children, those with mental health problems or those who cannot read or write could not participate properly in decision making.
They said that removing legal aid for parole cases, CSC cases and category A reviews was unlawful. However, they said that the prison system could deal fairly with sentence planning cases and governors’ adjudications without legal aid.
Does this mean that legal aid will now be restored?
It is still too early to know what the final outcome will be. The Government might try and appeal the decision. If they do not appeal, legal aid will still only be available once they amend the current law. If you need advice on one of the areas where the Court has said that removing legal aid was unlawful or where the Government accepted that exceptional case funding should be available, it is worth contacting a solicitor but it might still be some time before it is clear whether legal aid will actually be restored.Simon Creighton – Simon Creighton is a partner at Bhatt Murphy Solicitors
Vulnerable adults acquire appreciate specialist adult,s when attending court, police stations, and solicitors .
Everyone deserves justicePrisoners could NOT participate effectively in these decision-making processes, particularly vulnerable prisoners including those with learning difficulties or mental healthproblems.https://www.cps.gov.uk/publications/docs/best_evidence_in_criminal_proceedings.pdf
Law of England and Wales that full short in courts and police stations
Is a a wide definition is applied to meet the standard of vulnerable adult. Section 59 of the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Ac
A vulnerable adult is described as a person aged 18 years or over, who is in receipt of or may by reason of mental or hidden disability, age or illness.
A person is a vulnerable adult if, having attained the age of 18, s/he is in residential accommodation,or
- is in sheltered housing,
- receives domiciliary care,
- receives any form of health care,
- is detained in lawful custody,
- by virtue of an order of a court, is under supervision per Criminal Justice Act 2003 sections regarding community sentences;
- receives a welfare service of a prescribed description,
- receives any service or participates in any activity provided specifically for persons who has particular needs because of his age, has any form of disability or has a prescribed physical or mental problem. (Dyslexia, dyscalculia and dyspraxia are excluded disabilities),
- has payments made to him/her or to an accepted representative in pursuance of arrangements under Health and Social Care Act 2012, and/or
- requires assistance in the conduct of own affairs. continued
The new service to replace the National Offender Management Service (NOMS) will be Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS)
The effective abolition of NOMS, (christened Nightmare on Marsham Street in its early days due to the confusion it created) – follows the Prison Safety and Reform White Paper published last November. From 1st April 2017 Her Majesty’s Prison and Probation Service (HMPPS) will have full responsibility for the operational management of people in custody and the community, including strengthening security in prisons, tackling extremism and building intelligence about criminal gangs. The paper outlined an overhaul of the prisons estate with the forthcoming Prison and Courts Bill due to make rehabilitation for people in prison a key duty of prisons for the first time ever. There will be new leadership and promotion programmes for prison and probation officers to “further professionalise and build pride” in the service and the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) will be taking on responsibility for overall future policy direction, setting standards, scrutinising prison performance and commissioning services.
- New service will be responsible for rolling out government’s reform programme
- New leadership programme and new promotion opportunities for staff
- New role of Director with specific responsibility for women across the whole system
“Creating HMPPS will bring clarity to managing our prisons and probation services while further professionalising staff and building pride in their work,” said Justice Secretary Liz Truss. “Our prison and probation officers do a vital job and they deserve to work in a world-class organisation which supports them in reforming offenders and keeping the public safe,” she added. CEO of the new service Michael Spurr was cautiously optimistic about his new role. “There is a great deal to do,” he said, “but I am confident that with the additional resources the government are providing, we can transform the system and deliver the high quality of service the public deserve.”
No chance of succeeding, the POA’s primary role is to create recidivists, more prisons, more screws, more power. Until this vile organization is outlawed, classed a threat to the public and national security, prisons will remain Hate Factories, churning out dehumanized recidivists to keep POA members employed. No screw wants to see rehabilitation succeed and prisons close. There will never be pride in working in HM Hate Factories/Human Warehouses, prisons are staffed with no-hopers, the dross end of the dole queue. Until penal policy is independent of self-serving, demagogic, parasitic politicians, and any organization with vested interests in recidivism, prisons will continue to fail the public, and serve the parasite that feeds off the less fortunate in society.
Chris Grayling's only concern was to see justice done quickly: justice delayed is justice denied. By giving prison gove…
This guy is spot on, the POA are an organisation whose methodology is nowadays sophisticated but remains collusive and subversive with the sole purpose of undermining any government or management initiative which will reduce the requirement for so many people to be incarcerated. they are a scurge on our society. inside times news paper.
I find this extremely worrying, as a potential employer will already know I have a conviction before they even meet me. Regardless if the conviction in no way affects my ability to work in said position and regardless of how long ago my conviction was, with no other offences?
Everyone can make mistakes, how would you like it if one of your kids got into trouble on a night……