Legal aid for prisoners UK: Navigating Legal Issues Behind Bars
Legal aid for prisoners UK
Legal aid for prisoners UK – Navigating Legal Issues Behind Bars
In the ever-evolving landscape of legal rights for prisoners in the United Kingdom, the provision of legal aid remains a critical aspect of ensuring justice and fair treatment for those behind bars. The year 2013 marked a pivotal moment with changes to the scope of criminal legal aid for prison law matters, prompting a more focused approach to addressing certain issues while maintaining a robust complaints procedure for others. This article sheds light on the changes introduced in November 2013 and highlights various resources available to prisoners seeking legal advice and assistance.
Changes to Legal Aid in 2013
As of December 2, 2013, significant alterations were made to the eligibility criteria for criminal legal aid in the realm of prison law. It’s important to note that these changes solely impact criminal legal aid, with civil legal aid remaining unaffected. Civil legal aid encompasses a broader spectrum of cases, including those involving judicial review.
The revised guidelines dictate the cases for which criminal legal aid will be granted to serving prisoners. These include:
Legal Aid For Prisoners - What can it be used for?
Incorrect Release Date Calculation: For individuals serving fixed-term sentences or Detention and Training Orders who suspect that their release date has been miscalculated, and if the internal complaints system of the prison or Young Offender Institution (YOI) fails to resolve the matter.
Inaccurate Parole Board Referral Date: In the case of those serving indeterminate sentences, if they believe that the date for their referral to the Parole Board has been incorrectly calculated, and the internal complaints system of the prison or YOI proves insufficient in addressing the concern.
Parole Board Hearings for Release: Criminal legal aid may be granted for cases presented before the Parole Board, specifically when the Board is deliberating on whether to direct the prisoner’s release. This does not encompass recommendations related to transfers or returning to open conditions.
Disciplinary Cases with Criminal Charges: In instances where disciplinary cases involve a criminal charge and require a hearing before the Independent Adjudicator, criminal legal aid may be considered.
Legal Representation at Disciplinary Hearings: Cases in which the Adjudicating Governor deems that specific conditions are met, allowing the prisoner to have legal representation at disciplinary hearings.
Legal aid for prisoners UK - Who is eligible
However, it’s important to understand that not all cases will be eligible for criminal legal aid. Matters related to a prisoner’s treatment within the confines of the prison or YOI, including aspects like living conditions, staff interactions, communications, and visits, are generally excluded from this provision. Additionally, most issues related to a prisoner’s sentence do not qualify for criminal legal aid.
Legal aid for prisoners UK - Transition Period and Application Process
The changes were set to come into effect on December 2, 2013. Those wishing to apply for criminal legal aid for prison law matters before this date would not be subject to the new rules. To ensure the eligibility of applications made before the transition, specific requirements were outlined:
Treatment or YOI-related Issues: If an application pertained to treatment or issues within the YOI, the application form must have been signed and dated by the lawyer before December 2, 2013. The form should have been received by the Legal Aid Agency by January 2, 2014, no later than 5:00 pm. Alternatively, the application could have been made via telephone before December 2, 2013. In this case, the lawyer needed to sign and date the form upon receiving it, and it should have reached the Legal Aid Agency within 30 days of the telephone call.
Other Issue-Related Applications: For applications related to other matters, they should have been signed and dated by the applicant before December 2, 2013. Similar to the previous scenario, applying via telephone required the applicant to sign and date the form within 30 days of the telephone call, with receipt by the lawyer within the stipulated timeframe.
Addressing Ineligible Cases and the Complaints Procedure
Prisoners facing issues that do not qualify for criminal legal aid were advised to utilize the prison or YOI complaints procedure. The recommended steps included:
Informal Resolution: Engaging with staff members to attempt an informal resolution. This could involve speaking to a Medical Officer, Chaplain, or even a member of the local Independent Monitoring Board.
Formal Complaint: Filling out a complaint form (COMP 1) if the issue remains unresolved. This form was available within the prison and could also be used by those who found writing difficult; staff would assist in transcribing spoken complaints. Upon receiving a response, prisoners were entitled to staff assistance in understanding the reply.
Confidential Access Complaint: For sensitive matters, a confidential access complaint form (COMP 2) could be used. This allowed prisoners to communicate directly with higher-ranking authorities like the Governor of the prison or the Chair of the Independent Monitoring Board.
Appeal: If the response to a COMP 1 or COMP 2 complaint did not provide a satisfactory resolution, an appeal could be filed using an appeal form (COMP 1A). This would prompt a reevaluation by higher-level personnel. Notably, this step did not apply to confidential access complaints (COMP 2).
Prisons and Probation Ombudsman: If issues persisted even after the appeal, prisoners had the option to bring their complaint to the independent Prisons and Probation Ombudsman.
External Resources and Support for Prisoners
Recognizing the challenges faced by prisoners navigating legal matters, several organizations stepped forward to offer assistance and support:
Prisoners’ Advice Service: This charity delivers free legal information and advice exclusively to adult prisoners in England and Wales. The organization may also engage in legal action on behalf of prisoners when necessary. Services include a telephone advice line, self-help toolkits, and information sheets.
Prison Reform Trust: As part of its broader efforts, this charity offers a limited information and advice service for prisoners in England and Wales. Although it cannot provide legal advice or long-term support, it does operate a telephone information line and offers information sheets.
Prison Advice and Care Trust (Pact): This charity extends its support to prisoners, individuals with convictions, and their families, offering various services across England and Wales. With the backing of the Catholic community, Pact runs the Prisoners’ Families Helpline.
Prisoners’ Families Helpline: A confidential service aimed at families of prisoners in England and Wales, providing information and support through avenues beyond telephone communication.
Family Lives: Following the merger of Action for Prisoners’ and Offenders’ Families with Family Lives, this charity offers resources and projects supporting families affected by imprisonment.
Inside Time: A monthly newspaper distributed to prisons and available online, providing useful information, including contact details for help and support organizations.
New Bridge Foundation: This charity coordinates volunteers to offer a befriending service for prisoners.
PRISON LAW FREE ADVICE & HELP
Prisoner Legal Aid Scotland
In Scotland, Families Outside is a registered charity offering comprehensive support to families affected by imprisonment. For Northern Ireland, the NIACRO charity provides assistance to adult offenders and families of offenders.
In the ever-evolving legal landscape for prisoners in the UK, these organizations and resources play a crucial role in ensuring access to justice, information, and support for those behind bars and their families. While the specifics of legal aid may change over time, the commitment to fairness and advocacy remains a constant force in the pursuit of justice within the prison system.