The Memo: Legal Aid Funding: What is the Future of Prison Law?

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Legal Aid Funding: What is the Future of Prison Law?

Erin Bradbury – 28 August 2023

Emotionally draining, poorly paid and complex work. It’s probably no great surprise that prison lawyers have warned that if legal aid isn’t increased more will quit the profession across England and Wales. Prison lawyers underpin our justice system by providing representation and advice to prisoners whether it be about transfers, recategorization or parole hearings, as well as helping vulnerable prisoners. The Association of Prison Lawyers (APL) recently found that 74% anticipate leaving the profession within the next three years. Since 2008, the number of law firms that provide prison lawyers has fallen by 85%. To make matters worse, this comes against the backdrop of the expectation that prison populations are expected to grow to 100,000 by the mid-2020s.

The Victim and Prisoners Bill, currently at report stage, is predicted to create a greater workload for legal aid lawyers. The proposed bill will change the parole system, largely for prisoners convicted of serious offences, establishing a new power to usurp decisions made by the board and enable the Secretary of State or the Upper Tribunal to set or direct license conditions. This comes following the short-lived implementation of Dominic Rabb’s ban on prison and probation staff from making recommendations for prisoner’s release and transfers.

In 2022, the 15% increase in criminal legal aid rates - despite recommendation by the independent legal aid review by Lord Bellamy - didn’t include prison law. Hence, more than 90% of the APL survey respondents estimated they would lose out financially on more than half their cases. Understandably, this issue is exacerbated by the fact that new lawyers are reluctant to enter into the practice.

The future of prison law is very much in question, and the effects of the Victim and Prisoners Bill when it comes to pass have yet to be felt. If you’re interested, you can find out more about life as a criminal lawyer here.