Statement on behalf of the Association of Prison Lawyers
Action on 6th January 2014
The APL is an organisation founded in 2008 to represent the interests of specialist prison law practitioners. These comprise both Barristers and Solicitors throughout England & Wales.
We are aware of the day of action led by the Criminal Bar Association on 6th January. Members of the CBA will not attend hearings before the criminal courts on that morning, and have all been issued pro forma letters to send to clients and Courts to give them prior warning of this.
The Criminal Law Solicitors Association have pledged support, and left the specific means of expressing this support down to their individual members. Members have been instructed not to re-brief VHCC matters to in-house Higher Court Advocates. Members choosing not to attend non-VHCC hearings on the morning of 6th January 2014, have been advised to alert relevant parties to the availability of the duty solicitor on the day of the hearing. Specific exceptions are made for vulnerable clients.
We can follow the CLSA by pledging support to the CBA on their day of action. Whilst the disruption to the Court system is genuinely regrettable, it is our position that Ministry of Justice’s legal aid changes, in their originally proposed, and current, forms have allowed no alternative.
The majority of our members work under the Standard Criminal Contract, and therefore fall to be affected by the rate cuts which form the basis of the 6th January 2014 day of action. More impactful, however, to our members are the scope cuts which leave only a very narrow range of issues on which our clients can seek advice. It is this change which will fundamentally undermine the concept of legal accountability on the prison estate and beyond.
Should members wish to support the CBA/CLSA the following non-binding protocol is offered to help them, given our complex array of cases:
- For members due to represent prisoners at Adjudications, whether before the IA or Governor, write to both the client and the adjudication authorities, confirming your non-attendance, and requesting an adjournment.
- Where prison visits and video links have been arranged, individual members may wish to consider the following questions:
(a) Is the visit urgent?
(b) Can I give the client reasonable notice that I will not be attending?
(c) Is there another available opportunity to see the client before I act further in his/her case?
- For those due to represent clients at parole hearings we suggest attendance in all circumstances. The further days and weeks in custody faced by defendants in criminal cases, become months and years for our clients. Non-attendance will place their liberty in great jeopardy. There is no duty solicitor scheme to safeguard any such clients’ positions.
All in all, our members are encouraged, where possible, to attend one of the local or national meetings on 6th January 2013. If your adjudication is at a prison distant to your office, please be sure to factor in travel time to your plans.
PRO FORMA LETTER TO ADJUDICATION AUTHORITY:
***(Client name/charge numbers etc)***
Please note that a representative from our firm will be unable to attend the adjudication hearing scheduled for 6th January 2013, should it be heard before 2pm. This is due to a day of action, arranged by the Criminal Bar Association, to take place nationwide, with support from other representative bodies, including the Association of Prison Lawyers.
Representation will be arranged for 2pm onwards if there is express authority from the adjudicating authorities at least 24 hours prior to the scheduled hearing.
Without such authorisation, no such attendance will be arranged, without prejudice to any challenge(s) to adverse developments in the client’s case.
Please accordingly consider an adjournment or, where it is in the interests of natural fairness, discontinuance of the matter altogether.
 See pro forma letter