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Legal Aid and Prisoners

Volume 496: debated on Wednesday 15 July 2009

My noble Friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State (Lord Bach) has made the following written ministerial statement.

The Legal Services Commission (LSC) will publish today a response to its consultation, published in February 2009, on prison law funding. The consultation focused on proposals to control the volume and cost of prison law cases and place funding on a sustainable basis for the future. Legal aid expenditure on prison law—which includes advice to prisoners on their treatment, discipline and sentence, and legal representation for parole hearings—has increased from £1 million in 2001-02 to nearly £22 million in 2008-09.

Following consultation, the LSC intends to implement a range of measures from July 2010 to control any further increase in prison law costs. The proposals, which will bring prison law funding arrangements in line with many other areas of legal aid, are:

A new fee scheme based on fixed and standard fees (amended in response to feedback from legal aid providers);

A strengthened eligibility test, coupled with more clarity on the cases the LSC will and will not expect to fund in future; and

A new quality requirement, based on 350 hours work annually, to ensure providers have sufficient experience and expertise in prison law.

In the light of consultation responses, the LSC has decided to assess the impact of these steps before introducing additional controls on the volume of cases or piloting alternative means of delivering prison law services, such as telephone advice.

Copies of “Prison Law Funding: A Consultation Response” have been placed in the Libraries of both Houses. The document can be downloaded from the consultation section of the LSC’s website at www.legalservices.gov.uk.