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High Court Rejects Legal Aid Challenge

Since the government announced it was cutting legal aid last year, several charities in the sector have been campaigning for a review into the matter.

However, earlier this week, the High Court rejected the pleas of the Prisoners' Advice Service (PAS) and the Howard League for Penal Reform, arguing that the cuts are fully justified.

Lord chancellor and justice secretary Chris Grayling announced plans to cut legal aid funding in 2013, saying that taxpayers should not have to fund the service.

At the time, he said, "I have been appalled that taxpayers pay millions of pounds every year supplying Lawyers for prisoners to bring unnecessary legal cases."

Mr Grayling added, "After years of spiralling out of control, the amount spent on legal aid for prisoners is being tackled."

He believes that cuts will prevent around 11,000 cases from getting to Court each year, saving the sector approximately £4 million, and that prison services should deal with such issues instead.

Legal aid provides criminals with financial help in a variety of situations, with the two charities in this Court challenge raising concerns that cuts to the funding will see vulnerable prisoners suffer.

They were particularly worried that assistance to female prisoners requiring support from a mother and baby unit would be stopped, while concerns were also raised about funding for segregation and close supervision units. 

In addition to this, the charities believe the cuts have deliberately targeted those who are in too much of a vulnerable position to complain for themselves, which could affect their rehabilitation and subsequently end up costing taxpayers more in the long run. 

While the Judges handling the case said they understood the charities' issues, they added there was nothing unlawful about them, but that their concerns were purely political.

The PAS and the Howard League for Penal Reform had their challenge rejected by the Court, but both have said they will appeal against the ruling. The former reacted strongly to the Judges' decision, saying it is "deeply disappointed with this judgement".

By Chris Stevenson