July 21, 2024

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Lawyers struggling to gain access to clients in prisons in England and Wales

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Lawyers have warned they are running into “routine obstacles” in attempting to communicate with their clients in prison in England and Wales, in the latest sign of alarm in the legal profession about the state of the justice system.

A report by the Association of Prison Lawyers presented to justice minister Mike Freer this month identified multiple examples of the authorities offering lawyers only “extremely limited” availability for appointments with inmates.

Rikki Garg, chair of the APL, said the report found lawyers were encountering “widespread difficulties” in “getting to see their clients” in-person or over video link.

Nick Emmerson, president of the Law Society, said the lack of face-to-face interaction was contributing to trial hold-ups, “worsening the current court backlogs”.

The research, due to be published on Monday, comes amid intensifying concerns among lawyers that funding pressures are leading to a deepening crisis both in prisons and the wider justice system.

Sam Townend KC, the new chair of the bar council, warned in his inaugural speech this month that the criminal justice system was “at the point of structural failure”. Among many problems he cited was a backlog of about 66,500 Crown Court cases that was leaving victims and the accused waiting months for justice.

Lawyers require access to clients to advise them on preparations for parole hearings or trials. They had previously also offered advice on prison conditions but that role has largely disappeared because of cuts to legal aid, solicitors said.

More than 87,000 people were in prison in England and Wales at the end of September, according to the most recent data. More than 16,000 of those were awaiting trial or sentencing. Delays in the court system mean they can spend months on remand.

The research collated 78 examples of lawyers’ experiences…



2024-01-21 12:50:01

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