Legal aid

LAA consultation on criminal contract changes: Parole Board reconsideration hearings – Law Society response

The proposals

The Legal Aid Agency (LAA) has made changes to the crime contract to incorporate a new reconsideration mechanism for parole decisions.

These new hearings will be introduced in mid-July 2019 and were proposed as part of the recent Parole Board rules review.

Despite strong objections from the Law Society and Legal Aid Practitioners Group (LAPG), the LAA intends to treat reconsideration work as a continuation of the original Parole Board matter.

This work will be wrapped up in the advocacy assistance fixed fee for the original Parole Board case.

The only time a separate payment can be claimed for this work will be if the client was unrepresented in the original Parole Board case.

In such cases, the firm representing the client in the reconsideration hearing can claim this work as advice and assistance.

Our view

We strongly object to the expectation that this additional work will be undertaken for no remuneration.

We also raised serious concerns in our response about the limited consultation period – only three weeks – and scope of the consultation, which was restricted to the Law Society, LAPG and the Bar Council (the latter did not respond).

What this means for solicitors

Once the new hearings are introduced:

  • reconsideration will apply to all sentence types where the initial release is subject to a parole review
  • parole decisions in eligible cases will be provisional for a period of 21 calendar days following issue of the decision, during which time the prisoner or the secretary of state may apply to the Parole Board for reconsideration
  • the decision becomes final at the end of the 21-day period
  • prisoners will not be released during the provisional window unless there are exceptional circumstances
  • only the parties to the parole process may apply for reconsideration
  • the prisoner will have the opportunity to make representations in response to any application by the secretary of state (and vice versa)
  • reconsideration will only be ordered where decisions are irrational or procedurally unfair – this is not a merits-based appeal system where decisions can be challenged based on disagreement with the result

Next steps

The updated contract specification was published on 28 June.

The changes will come into force on 22 July 2019.

See the updated contract on the GOV.UK website

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