Legal aid awareness training for prison staff
By Monidipa Fouzder >>
(20 December 2022)
Training will be given to prison staff to ensure they are fully aware that immigration detainees are entitled to 30 minutes of free legal advice after inspectors discovered ‘patchy knowledge’ of the policy.
HM Prison & Probation Service introduced the policy last November to address the disparity between those held in prisons and immigration removal centres. Detainees in immigration removal centres are entitled to 30 minutes of free advice under the government’s detained duty advice scheme.
However, a review by HM Inspectorate of Prisons conducted this year found that prison and Home Office staff had ‘patchy knowledge’ of the service and detainees’ entitlement to it. Staff at one prison had ‘no idea’ about access to legal advice for detainees.
Inspectors said an inability to access and contact legal representatives, and significant variation in staff’s knowledge and support, ‘created a risk that detainees were unable to fairly challenge the Home Office decision to remove them’. The lack of understanding among staff of changes to detainees’ entitlements to legal aid meant detainees in prisons were disadvantaged compared to those held in immigration removal centres, inspectors added.
An action plan published by HMPPS and the Ministry of Justice this week outlines the steps being taken to address the inspectors’ concerns.
The action plan states that a factsheet on immigration detention for foreign national offenders, including to seek legal advice if required, was published on HMPPS’s ‘FNO information hub’ in June. The information hub has now moved to a new platform providing a central portal for staff to access guidance regularly, including the Access to Legal Aid instruction.
A new Individuals in Immigration Detention in Prison Policy Framework will be published this month ‘and will embed the Access to Legal Aid instruction, mandating its future use in all establishments’. Staff Q&A sessions on the framework will be held next month. Additional awareness training sessions for prison staff and immigration prison teams will be completed by July.
(Courtesy: The Law Society Gazette)