Sunday, 19 July 2015

Mr Gove, "Will policy come to match the rhetoric?"

The Secretary of State for Justice / Lord Chancellor (Michael Gove) has spoken about prisons and reform - The Treasure in the Heart of Man - Making prisons work.  All that remains, in this difficult financial climate, is to match the splendid rhetoric with suitably effective action.  At least, it seems that Mr Gove has read and noted the contents of the highly depressing Annual Report from HM Inspector of Prisons for England and Wales.  This report ought to stand as a shameful indictment of government policy over recent years.

In many areas of prison law, legal aid for prisoners was removed by the coalition government.  In March 2014, the High Court refused to allow a challenge to this policy.  On 7th July, the Howard League for Penal Reform went to the Court of Appeal to try to overturn the High Court decision -  Howard League - Legal Aid for prisoners

See the High Court  "decision - (see the judgment) - where Cranston J (delivering the judgment of the High Court) said:

"We can well understand the concerns ventilated through these claims. A range of impressive commentators have argued that the changes to criminal legal aid for prison law in the Criminal Aid (General) (Amendment) Regulations 2013, SI 2013, No 2790 will have serious adverse effects for  prisoners. But we simply cannot see, at least at this point in time, how these concerns can arguably constitute unlawful action by the Lord Chancellor. For the time being the forum for advancing these concerns remains the political."  (Link to the regulations inserted).

Another point made in the High Court judgment related to the Lord Chancellor's duty under the Constitutional Reform Act 2005 to uphold the rule of law.  Were the 2013 Regulations ultra vires (i.e. beyond powers) the statutory and constitutional role of the Lord Chancellor to uphold the rule of law.  Cranston J said - "As a legal submission this goes nowhere."

The precise nature of that "duty" remains rather enigmatic and one wonders whether, apart from perhaps politically, it has any real bite.

Mr Gove also appeared this week before the Justice Committee - view the session at Parliament.TV

The fight for criminal legal aid to be adequately maintained continues.  Following the Criminal Bar Association's ballot in favour of action to support solicitors (see previous post), the CBA has issued a "No returns" protocol.

The Guardian 15th July - Barristers vote to join solicitors in legal aid protest

Law Society Gazette - Criminal bar announces date for legal aid action 

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