Prisoners will no longer get legal aid to bring ‘unnecessary’ cases about their treatment in prison under plans announced by the justice secretary this morning.

Chris Grayling said the proposal, which will save about £4m spent on 11,000 cases a year, will be included in a consultation on legal aid to be published shortly.

The proposal is to remove eligibility for legal aid for complaints about the jail system itself, for example prisoners’ appeals against the category of prison or actions over issues such as visits or correspondence.

Cases where prisoners are appealing against their sentence or where their actual detention is being reviewed, such as at a parole hearing, will still receive legal aid.

Grayling said: ‘I have been appalled that taxpayers pay millions of pounds every year supplying lawyers for prisoners to bring unnecessary legal cases. The vast majority of these types of complaint can and should be dealt with by the prison service’s complaints system,’ he said.

The Ministry of Justice said that where the internal complaints system has been exhausted a prisoner can refer an issue to the Independent Prisons and Probation Ombudsman, which in most cases will not require legal advice.

‘After years spiralling out of control, the amount spent of legal aid for prisoners is being tackled. Legal aid must be preserved for those most in need and where a lawyer’s services are genuinely needed,’ Grayling said.

The Association of Prison Lawyers said: ‘The announcement is confusing. Legal aid for these areas was severely restricted by the last government and it is not clear if the intention is to extend those restrictions or to now remove legal aid completely.

‘The exclusion of legal aid for people held in the custody of the state is hugely problematic as they do not have the same opportunity to access advice or the courts as those at liberty. Similar systems operate in a number of US states with disastrous consequences for both prisoners and prison management.’

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