Tuesday, 13 April 2010

MPs to get legal aid.

It has been announced that the M.P.s charged in relation to their expenses claim will receive legal aid to pay for their defence - see Daily Mail 13th April.  Law and Lawyers has posted on this case before - see here.  Certain media headlines stated that M.P.s who claim to be "above the law" receive legal aid.  That is incorrect since the Bill of Rights and Parliamentary Privilege are part of the law.

The cuts in legal aid for criminal cases brought in by the Labour Government are severe.  Legal Representation in Magistrates' Courts is only provided if the defendant passes a means test AND the case passes the interests of justice test.  The introduction of means testing in Magistrates' Courts took place in October 2006 and was a reversal of government policy which has resulted in many having to appear before magistrates unrepresented.  In the first half of 2010, means testing is being introduced into the Crown Court.   Strictly speaking there is only ONE Crown Court for England and Wales though it sits in different locations but means testing is being introduced according to a "roll out" plan which may be seen at Legal Services Commission.  It will not apply to London until 28th June.  That is convenient for these MPs who are being tried by the Crown Court sitting at Southwark.  This method of introducing means testing appears to be particularly unfair.


  1. Interested to see that Lord hanningfield is not, apparently claiming legal aid. Hate to suggest a political divide but ho hum....

  2. Is there a document somewhere which tells you how much a defendant will have to pay into the court?

    It's notable that they've designed the scheme so that there will be no unrepresented defendants able to turn to the jury and say: poor me, no brief, it's not fair, let me off. I guess the only way to achieve that would be to decline to apply for legal aid in the first place.

  3. There is a document published by the Legal Services Commission - see here.

  4. Thanks OJ. However the document doesn't define "disposable" income. Can you take your income and substract off all your living expenses and then have to hand over 90% of what's left?

  5. Disposable income usually (for Legal Aid purposes) means gross income less Tax, NI, Mortgage/rent costs, childcare costs and maintenance. There is also a 'base amount' allowed for other living expenses which is deducted, and an allowance for each dependent child.
    I don't have access to the figures for crime but for civil legal aid the the amounts allowed are:
    Housing costs - up to £545 p.c.m
    Dependent child - £250.16 p.c.m
    From what I can see, the criminal figures also take into account Council Tax, and the protected amount is about £5,600 p.a, so your dispsable income would be Gross income minus Mortgage/rent, Council Tax, NI, Income Tax, child care costs & maintenace, £466 living costs and any allowance for dependents.