The Legal Aid Agency is to gain new powers to recover costs from convicted criminals.

The Ministry of Justice yesterday laid changes to legal aid regulations, subject to parliamentary approval, to enable the agency to seize ‘restrained’ assets to pay for any outstanding legal costs of contributions from 1 June.

Assets restrained under the Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 cannot be spent or moved by the individual concerned. After conviction, such assets may be confiscated by the court.  

Measures to recover legal aid costs will be taken only after victims’ compensation and confiscation orders have been made, the ministry said. It estimates up to £2m a year could be recovered for the legal aid costs. 

Justice secretary Chris Grayling (pictured) described the changes as a ‘vital further step in making the legal aid system fair and credible’.

Grayling said: ‘For too long people convicted of crimes have avoided paying what they owe. Legal aid is taxpayers’ money and we have a duty to make sure it is not being spent on those we believe can afford to pay towards their legal costs.’