Press release

Legal Aid cheats to have cars seized to pay costs

This was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

From today criminals who deliberately cheat the system and leave taxpayers to foot their legal aid bill, despite being able to pay, face having their cars seized.

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Too often people appearing in court avoid paying what they owe. The Crown Court legal aid bill tops £700 million a year, yet only around 20% of the amount that should be paid back is currently recovered.

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said: ‘Convicted criminals have cheated innocent taxpayers for too long by dodging requirements to contribute to the legal costs of their defence. I am determined that where they can pay, they will pay.

‘Legal aid is not free – it is taxpayers’ money. We must bring down the cost of legal aid and our starting point has to be that law-abiding citizens don’t foot the bill when those concerned could pay themselves.

‘With £34 million owed to taxpayers from the last three years alone, it’s time to get tough. I am clear - you can’t avoid paying your legal aid bill and expect to keep a fancy car on the driveway.’

Under the scheme the Legal Aid Agency will now be able to apply to clamp any vehicles identified as belonging to the defendant.

After conviction the LAA can then go back to court for permission to sell the car, putting money raised towards unpaid legal aid costs.

The new Motor Vehicle Orders scheme will allow robust enforcement action to be taken against those who have been assessed as having sufficient financial means to contribute towards their own legal aid costs, but have then failed to make the payments owed.

Currently all defendants at the Crown Court are granted legal aid for the cost of their defence, but are expected to contribute to some or all of the costs if convicted, depending on their earnings and assets.

Too many people had been evading doing so by playing the system - refusing to cooperate with attempts to assess their income or the value of any financial assets they may have or hiding income or assets to appear unable to pay.

New measures introduced on 1 April 2013 now mean that if an individual is believed to have assets but is refusing to provide the financial information needed to assess their contribution, they will be actively pursued for their entirety of their bill.

When criminals hide assets or earnings which are uncovered after their legal aid contribution order has been imposed the new powers mean they will now pay the full amount they can afford.

Notes to Editors

  1. The Legal Aid Agency will be able to apply to the courts for Motor Vehicle Orders under the scheme from 30 July 2013. The powers will apply to defendants granted legal aid from 30 July 2013.
  2. The Government consulted on changes to the Crown Court Means Testing scheme, including proposals for the Motor Vehicle Order scheme, on 30 October 2012 and published a response on 5 March 2013. Changes to the process to prevent criminals from failing to participate in means testing assessments came in to force on 1 April 2013. Details of the final MVO scheme were published on 5 July 2013.
  3. For a defendant facing trial at the Crown Court provided he/she submits a completed application form they will be granted legal aid. Under the Crown Court Means Testing scheme, a financial assessment of the defendant’s means is then used to determine whether or not the defendant should be asked to pay a contribution towards their legal aid defence costs from their income and/or capital assets.
  4. If the defendant is liable to pay a contribution from income, he/she will be issued with an Income Contribution Order comprising 6 monthly payments.
  5. A defendant acquitted at the Crown Court will have all income contributions made refunded. If convicted any outstanding legal aid costs may be recovered from capital assets held by them.
  6. Means Testing was introduced in Magistrates’ Courts in 2006 and was extended to Crown Courts in 2010.
  7. £700 million a year is spent on legal aid for Crown Court cases. At 31 March 2013, prior to the changes to the process, the Crown Court means testing scheme had recovered £9.6 million (22%) of the £43.6 million total ordered, since the scheme began in January 2010.
  8. For further information please contact the Ministry of Justice Press Office on 020 3334 3536.
Published 30 July 2013