Legal Aid

Grayling promises clampdown on unrecovered legal aid

PUBLISHED October 29, 2012

Tuesday 30 October 2012 by Catherine Baksi

Wealthy defendants will have their cars seized and sold under a government plan to claw back £10m a year in contributions to legal aid.

Chris Grayling, the justice secretary, will today publish a consultation on measures to ensure defendants co-operate with means testing and make sure convicted criminals pay back their legal aid contributions.

Under the proposals, defendants who are believed to have assets but who refuse to provide the information required for a means test will have to pay the entire cost of their legal aid bill.

Those who have hidden or failed to disclose assets or earnings, in order to reduce the amount they are required to pay, will have their contributions adjusted and have to pay more.

The consultation also recommends that if criminals fail to pay the amounts ordered toward their legal aid costs their vehicles will be clamped and sold.

Means testing was introduced in the magistrates' court in 2006 and extended to the Crown court in 2010. The Ministry of Justice estimates that of the £10m that convicted defendants are ordered to pay back each year, only around £1.8m (less than 20%) is paid back.

The consultation comes as the MoJ seeks to implement wide cost-cutting measures in a bid to reduce its annual £2.1bn legal aid budget by £350m.

Grayling said: 'Convicted criminals have cheated innocent taxpayers for too long by dodging requirements to contribute to the legal costs of their defence. It is not right that law-abiding citizens foot the bill when those concerned can pay.

'These proposals set out robust measures that will see more costs recuperated from criminals. This includes measures like seizing assets, such as cars, from criminals who attempt to evade paying back these fees by hiding income and savings.'

The consultation is open until 11 December.