Our report on sustainability in prison law legal aid published today 7 August 2023, shows three-quarters of respondents do not anticipate being prison law legal aid lawyers in three years’ time.
The number of prison law legal aid providers has already been decimated, falling by 85% since 2008.
Whilst the workload in prison law legal aid has increased in volume, stress and complexity, pay has decreased in actual and real terms over the last decade.
Despite this, Lord Bellamy’s proposal of a 15% increase for prison law work was rejected by the government.
Rikki Garg, Chairman of the APL said:
“This data demonstrates the precarious position this area of law is in. Over the last 10 years prison law providers have been decimated . The number of suppliers has reduced from over 900 firms doing this work in 2008 to 129 today.
At the same time hearings, before the Parole board, are at an all-time high. The Parole Board have appointed specialist chairs to deal with distinct complex cases and increased its members.
This rate of attrition cannot go on.
New lawyers are not coming into an area of social justice when it is needed most.
There have been major changes in the last five years making hearings even more complex than ever before. Unless something can be done to address this decline now there is no future in this area of practice. The result of this is that there will be far more unrepresented prisoners navigating a minefield of rules, regulations, guidance and statute which ultimately will result in a denial in access to justice with effective representation. The cost of which will far outweigh an increase in fees as recommended by the proposed Bellamy reforms.”
Lubna Shuja, Law Society of England and Wales President said:
“Parole hearings are a vital part of the criminal justice system and solicitors play a key role in ensuring they run efficiently, and prisoners’ cases are presented properly.
The Association of Prison Lawyers survey demonstrates the plight of the prison lawyer and the urgent need to stop the exodus from the profession.
A starting point would be for the government to implement the recommended 15% increase in the legal aid rate for prison law work.”
Chris Minnoch, Director of the Legal Aid Practitioners’ Group said:
“This report from the Association of Prison Lawyers is a graphic demonstration of what happens when a system is deliberately and consistently starved of adequate funding. It is reflective of what has happened across the entire legal aid system for over 20 years, and shines an important and timely spotlight on a crucial element of not just the legal aid system, but the criminal justice system as a whole.
It is absurd that the government has conceded that additional funding is required to halt the decline of criminal legal aid practitioners but not applied the same logic to those delivering vital services to prisoners. Carrying out prison law work requires a phenomenal level of commitment and dedication, which is clearly demonstrated in this report by those able to continue to do the work. But the report also clearly demonstrates that commitment and dedication can only take practitioners so far and that the numbers will continue to decline without adequate funding.
Action is needed now to ensure prison law work is put on a sustainable footing. A failure by government to act will undermine the integrity of the parole process and end up actually increasing costs within the prison system.”
Rikki Garg, Chair of APL, has written to Alex Chalk MP, Secretary of State for Justice, with a copy of the report requesting an urgent meeting to discuss the concerns raised by practitioners.