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Five Crown Courts introduce means testing

11 January 2010

Five Crown Courts in England and Wales introduced means testing today. They are Blackfriars in London, Norwich, Bradford, Preston and Swansea.

The LSC hopes the scheme will save £50m a year when it is extended across the country in April this year.

A spokesman for the LSC said means testing in the magistrates’ courts, introduced in October 2006, had saved £80m so far.

Those who are under 18 or on benefits will continue to get legal aid automatically in the Crown Court. Those with a disposable income of £283 or more will either pay contributions, pay the whole amount, instruct a solicitor privately or represent themselves.

The LSC estimates that only around 25 per cent of defendants will have to contribute to their defence costs.

However, the Law Society is pressing ahead with its judicial review of the Ministry of Justice's decision to cap the costs recoverable by acquitted defendants at legal aid rates.

A society spokeswoman said an application had been filed at the RCJ arguing that the cap on recovering costs is unlawful and unfair.

Robert Heslett, president of the society, said that successful defendants were entitled to “reasonable compensation” for their costs under the Prosecution of Offences Act 1985.

The society has told solicitors that they can make applications to the judge at the end of cases for summary assessment of costs, allowing judges to apply the “reasonable compensation” test.

Stephen Parkinson, senior partner of Kingsley Napley, which is acting for the society, said: “People do not choose to be prosecuted. Where they are prosecuted and then acquitted, it is grossly unfair that under the new scheme they only get back a fraction of their costs. By contrast, successful prosecutors are entitled to recover their ‘just and reasonable costs’, which can work out at much more than legal aid rates.”

The society’s judicial review is supported by the Police Federation, which represents 140,000 police officers up to the rank of chief inspector.

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Legal Aid Costs Charities Courts & Judiciary