Catholic charities have voiced concern about planned cuts to legal aid, arguing that it “threatens the integrity of the criminal justice system.”
The Caritas Social Action Network (CSAN) are concerned about new Government proposals to remove legal aid from all ‘treatment cases’ in order to make savings of £4 million per year.
Treatment issues include prisoner concerns about discrimination, communications, mother and baby issues as well as concerns about the behaviour of staff such as bullying.
CSAN’s Chief Executive, Helen O’Brien said: “We are particularly worried that any withdrawal of legal aid may leave prisoners without the option of redress.
Whilst people who have committed a crime may be rightly deprived of their liberty, they should always be treated with dignity and respect and should have access to appropriate recourse if their rights are violated.
“A strong and accessible legal aid system for treatment cases provides an important safeguard against inappropriate treatment towards prisoners and serves to protect not only the individuals concerned but the integrity of our criminal justice system as a whole.
“Whilst we recognise the high standards and professionalism of the overwhelming majority of those who work in the Prison Service, these figures show that instances of unacceptable conduct are not without precedent and we are extremely concerned that any withdrawal of legal aid in these cases could leave vulnerable individuals without any recourse to justice should mistreatment occur.”
According to CSAN’s research, 61 staff in prisons were subject to disciplinary action for their treatment of prisoners and a further 26 staff were dismissed for their treatment of prisoners.