Cuts to legal aid for prisoners are unlawful, the Court of Appeal ruled today.
The cuts were imposed by former Lord Chancellor, Chris Grayling, in 2013, which involved an almost blanket ban on prisoners who could not afford it getting legal aid.
For example, a child being held in solitary could not challenge it or a prisoner applying to a rehabilitative course or transfer to an open prison could not get representation unless they had money.
The decision prompted a legal challenge from the Howard League for Reform and the Prisoners’ Advice Service (PAS).
According to the Howard League: "Since cuts to legal aid for prisoners came into force in December 2013, violence and self-injury in prisons have risen to record levels."
Nearly 300 people committed suicide and calls to the two charities’ advice lines have increased by almost 50 per cent.
Between 2013 and the Court of appeal’s decision, the Government agreed legal aid would be available for cases concerning mother and baby units, resettlement, licence conditions and segregation through an exceptional funding scheme.
Three judges today said the high threshold required for a finding of inherent or systemic unfairness had been satisfied in three of the five categories.
These were pre-tariff reviews by the Parole Board where the Board advises the Secretary of State for Justice whether the prisoner is suitable for a move to open conditions, reviews of Category A prisoners and decisions as to placement in close supervision centres (CSCs).
In the concluding notes, it was observed that the only reason the cuts were allowed was because of promises there would be "alternatives means" in place to ensure prisoners would not suffer as a result of the cuts.
According the court, "no changes have been introduced to replace the gap left".
Lord Justice Beatson, sitting with Lady Justice Gloster and Lord Justice Patten, said: "This is particularly so in the case of vulnerable prisoners, such as those with learning disabilities and mental illness, on whom we have focused."
Frances Crook, Chief Executive of the Howard League for Penal Reform, said: "This decision will make the public safer.
"It vindicates our concerns that cuts imposed by the former Lord Chancellor, Chris Grayling, in 2013 presented a grave risk that prisoners would become stuck in a broken system.
"This sends a clear message that important decisions about prisoners cannot be made efficiently or fairly in the face of these cuts. We look forward to hearing from the Lord Chancellor with her plans to give effect to the judgment."
A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said: "We note the Court of Appeal’s judgment on changes made to legal aid regulations - introduced in 2013 - and will consider whether to appeal."