Reforms 'will destroy prison law'
Plans to drastically cut legal aid for convicted criminals will destroy prison law, a Catholic agency has warned.
The Irish Council for Prisoners Overseas (ICPO) said it is seriously concerned about UK Government proposals to slash the number of lawsuits by 11,000 a year.
Father Gerry McFlynn, project manager in the group's London office, said inmates could be left with limited options to challenge discrimination, behaviour of staff and grievances over jail conditions.
"The massive cuts to legal aid fees for prison law work will mean that prisoners will probably be represented by inexperienced clerks while lawyers with years of experience will quickly disappear from the scene," he said.
"These 'reforms' will destroy prison law as we have known it and result in the vast majority of prisoners being without good quality legal representation in the future."
"The proposed cuts in funding will make life even more difficult for Irish prisoners and will have potentially disastrous consequences for prisoners, their families and society as a whole."
Under proposals from the UK Ministry of Justice criminals could be barred from claiming legal aid to pay for cases regarding their detention including categorisation, transfers, correspondence and visits.
The ICPO, an agency of the Irish Catholic Bishops' Conference working with about 1,000 Irish prisoners in the UK, said the £4 million cut to legal aid will close the door on inmates with learning disabilities and mental health issues.
Joanna Joyce, the agency's co-ordinator, said: "Prisoners - including those with learning disabilities and mental health issues - will no longer have access to legal aid to address grievances about their treatment that cannot be addressed through the internal prison requests and complaints system."
UK Justice Secretary Chris Grayling has said the proposals were aimed at stopping "unnecessary legal cases" which could be dealt with by the prison service's internal complaints system. Under the existing system, legal aid can be accessed for cases deemed to be unsuitable for the internal procedures.