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Hudson condemns "stigmatising" of legal aid over expenses MPs

14 April 2010

Des Hudson, chief executive of the Law Society, has said that “stigmatising the legal aid system” for funding the defence costs of three ex-Labour MPs charged with offences related to their expenses’ claims was “disappointing and unhelpful”.

David Chaytor, Elliot Morley and Jim Devine were granted legal aid by Southwark Crown Court last week to fight charges of theft by false accounting. Conservative peer Lord Hanningfield, who faces similar charges, has not applied for legal aid.

Conservative leader David Cameron said this week that it was a “complete outrage” that the MPs had received legal aid, while Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg described it as “incomprehensible”.

The prime minister, Gordon Brown, told the BBC yesterday: “I think the money will have to be paid back by these politicians. I think the evidence is that people in their position will have to pay back the money – or most of the money – they get in legal aid.”

Hudson said it was a principle of our justice system that those charged with criminal offences at the Crown Court were entitled to legal representation.

“This is a vital part of ensuring that charges against a defendant are fully proved in a fair trial,” he said. “This must require the provision of legal aid.

“It would be very worrying indeed if a fellow citizen charged with serious criminal matters could not be properly represented in court.”

The four men are due to appear before Southwark Crown Court on 27 May. At the end of their trial, whether or not they are convicted, the judge can impose recovery of defence costs orders on them.

Means testing was introduced into five Crown Courts in England and Wales at the start of this year – Blackfriars, Swansea, Norwich, Bradford and Preston.

A spokesman for the LSC said Southwark Crown Court would be joining the scheme at the end of June.

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