A lawyer who requested a video-link to see their child client in a custodial institution two months before a parole hearing was told the earliest available slot was two days after the hearing. That is just one of several examples revealed by the Association of Prison Lawyers in a shocking report published today on the hurdles practitioners face trying to see their client.
Lawyers provided 78 examples, covering 46 prisons, where they struggled to see their client by video-link or in person.
In 34 examples, practitioners were told there were no links for solicitors. In 25 examples, they had unacceptably long waits for an appointment. In 13 examples, in person appointments were ‘extremely limited’. In six examples, the legal visit was ‘ineffective’ because either the client was not produced or the lawyer could not bring in their laptop.
One solicitor was told the prison where their client was being held had only one video link and that was for courts and oral hearings.
Another prison told a lawyer last November that nothing was available for a month, which would have meant the lawyer missing a deadline for submitting representations on parole. A lawyer requesting a video appointment this month was told the prison is fully booked until March.
Dr Laura Janes, who analysed the examples on behalf of the association, said the report provides a ‘small snapshot’ of the widespread serious delays and lack of appropriate facilities.
Law Society president Nick Emmerson said: ‘When solicitors are representing people in prison at all stages of the process, but particularly when they are on remand, it is absolutely vital that they have access to their clients. Their inability to get appointments in person, or over a video link where appropriate, hampers solicitors’ ability to represent their clients in court and can cause delays to the progress of cases through the justice system. This can result in hearings not being able to go ahead, causing wasted costs to the taxpayer and worsening the current court backlogs.’
The report recommends confidential video links and in person visits being made available within a ‘reasonable period of time’ in every prison and legal visits being prioritised.
The report was handed to justice minister Mike Freer last Monday.
A spokesperson for HM Prison and Probation Service said: ‘All prisons have video capability to facilitate meetings between lawyers and offenders, while our continued investment in new technology – and the thousands more prison officers we’ve hired – has helped to increase the number of visits taking place in the last 12 months.’