The legal aid bill for human rights' challenges by prisoners to parole board decisions has soared tenfold in the last five years to more than £2m, according to official figures released yesterday.
Nick Clegg, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman, last night said: "Recent changes in the law should not be a gravy train for lawyers . What we need are short, effective hearings which allow both sides to examine reasons for parole decisions."
David Davies, Conservative MP for Monmouth, who ferreted out the figures, said: "It is appalling that because of human rights laws so much taxpayers' money is being spent on allowing prisoners to be legally represented to argue their case before the parole board."
I do understand why articles like this are printed. Firstly lawyers who defend people accused of, and sometimes convicted of, crimes are easy targets. Secondly prisoners are easy targets.
The government has established a system whereby the Parole Board has hearings to determine if certain prisoners can be released. I will generalise here, but, the current system of parole kicks in when a prisoner who has been given a sentence of four years or more in prison has served between half of his sentence to two thirds of his sentence. Between the half way point and the two thirds point he can apply for parole. Provided that the prisoner is not subject to more rigorousus sentence then he must be released after serving two thirds of his sentence anyway.
So once a year a prisoner is able to apply for parole. If he is not granted parole he has to wait another year before he can apply for parole again unless he reaches the two thirds point of his sentence and is released automatically. Bearing in mind that a prisoner has one chance a year to put his case to the Parole Board he should be entitled to some help. Generally speaking us solicitors can be granted funding of up to £1,500 to represent prisoners at these hearings. We do not get paid £1,500 per case, we can submit a claim for up to £1,500. The Parole Board are experts in their field. Prisoners are prisoners and most are of substandard intelligence, many suffer from mental health issues, and do not have the ability to put their case to the Parole Board.
If the government or elected MPs really do think that system is so unfair for prisoners to be represented at parole hearings then they are free to draft new legislation to get rid of the funding for solicitors, or create another system whereby prisoners are barred from having legal representation at their hearing. The government will not change the rules because they know at the end of the day it is only fair that once a year prisoners are given some help in how to present their case to the Parole Board.
Mr. Clegg and Mr. Davies you should know better than to take cheap shots at prisoners. Mr. Clegg it is not a gravy train, it is legally aided work, have a look at the number of criminal defence, or even prison law, firms that are still in practice, that number will decrease over the year and will continue to decrease because criminal law and prison law is not a gravy train. Mr. Davies if you think it iappallinguling to let prisoners be represented at Parole Hearings by legally aided solicitors then why have you not put a private members bill before Parliament to change the current system?