Tough, new enforcement action will be taken against convicted criminals who do not pay their legal bills when they can afford to.
New measures to tackle criminals who hide their wealth, or who refuse to cooperate with financial assessments, are being introduced after it was revealed that only about 20% of the amount criminals are ordered to pay back is currently collected.
With around £700 million a year spent on Crown Court cases, more must be done to make sure money is recovered where people can afford to pay.
This will include:
- Actively pursuing criminals for their entirety of their bill if they refuse to provide the financial information necessary to perform a means test;
- Amending legal aid contribution orders if hidden assets or earnings later come to light so criminals pay the full amount they can afford.
New measures will also be introduced that will allow vehicles to be clamped and sold if criminals fail to make the ordered payments toward their legal aid costs.
Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said:
‘It is scandalous that each year innocent taxpayers pay more than £20 million towards the defence of criminals who can afford to pay for themselves. This cannot be allowed to continue. Legal aid is not free - it is taxpayers’ money.’
Anyone accused of a crime in the Crown Court is granted legal aid to pay for their defence. Defendants in Crown Court cases are then means-tested to decide if they can afford to pay for some, or all, of their legal bill. If convicted and judged capable of doing so, they are then required to pay the amount imposed by a Contribution Order.
View the response to the consultation Crown Court means testing of criminal legal aid