To ask the Secretary of State for Justice, what steps he is taking to help improve access between solicitors and their clients during the covid-19 outbreak.
Despite the absence of physical visits, prisoners maintain the right to access legal advice, and we have looked to ensure that prisoners continue to have the tools to make contact with their legal representatives via telephone, video link or written correspondence.
Since the outbreak of the pandemic, we have enhanced the capability of prison video conferencing facilities, particularly to support priority court work such as sentencing hearings and prisoners approaching their parole hearing dates. We have made use of the additional 1,250 handsets issued to prisons without in-cell telephony in order to facilitate private conversations with legal advisers, alongside encouraging governors to ensure prisoners can have conversations with their representatives in confidence.
We have also been taking steps to increase the available capacity of video conferencing at some locations through increased operating hours to include longer hours during the weekdays, and in some cases on Saturdays. Alongside this work, we are increasing the physical number of video link outlets at a number of critical sites where capacity is limited, as well as to support specialist courts, including youth and women’s prisons.
As stated in our National Framework for recovery in prisons, we are adapting aspects of prison regime, in consultation with trade unions and health partners, to restart key services. We have consulted representatives of the legal profession on the resumption of legal visits so that they can resume in a safe manner over the next few weeks.