The Ministry of Justice (“MoJ”) has said it will trial proposals outlined in its consultation paper, “Crown Court means testing” in five courts in January. Under these proposals, defendants would pay legal aid contributions if they have annual disposable income of more than £3,398, capital assets of more than £3,000, or £30,000 of equity in their homes.
If acquitted, the money would be paid back with interest. Acquitted defendants who do not qualify for legal aid or want to pay privately will no longer be able to recover all of their costs.
Adrian Chaplin, secretary, Criminal Bar Association (“CBA”), said: “The CBA continues to have reservations over the levels at which defendants will be required to make contributions, and also has concerns relating to the proposals for recovery of defendant’s costs in privately funded defences. “The MoJ’s proposals are that successful privately funded defendants will only be able to recover costs up to legal aid rates. Before the proposed changes, a privately funded defendant would only have been entitled to recover reasonable costs that were properly incurred. The CBA is of the view that there is no need to change that test.”
Legal campaign group Justice condemned the plans for “undermining the principle of innocent until proven guilty”.
Senior legal officer Sally Ireland said: “Innocent people and their families should not suffer financially because the state has decided to prosecute them. Defendants should only pay costs once they are convicted.”
A spokesperson for the Bar Council expressed “concern that the proposed cut off from entitlement to public funding is set at a level which excludess, partially or totally too great a proportion of Crown Court defendants and this will cause hardship.
“There is concern that the costs of administering the scheme have been understated and therefore, the proposed savings figures are over optimistic.”