Amendments to the Crime and Courts Bill announced today ‘will put an end to millionaire criminals refusing to reimburse the taxpayer’ for free legal advice, the government said. The move follows a long campaign by the legal profession.
Under the current system, wealthy defendants can have their assets ‘frozen’ – making them eligible for legal aid. Today’s amendments will enable legal aid costs to be seized from all assets, restrained or not, alongside compensationfor victims and the proceeds of crime.
Justice secretary Chris Grayling said: ‘The principles of fairness and equality are fundamental to our justice system. It’s high time the legal aid system was made fairer to the taxpayer; putting an end to crime bosses getting a free ride at the taxpayers’ expense.’
The Law Society's president Lucy Scott-Moncrieff said: "The Law Society is delighted that our campaign to see frozen assets of wealthy suspected criminals released to pay defence costs has been successful. We welcome the Ministry's amendments to the Crime and Courts Bill to implement this long overdue change."
The Bar Council, hailed the development as a ‘significant victory’ in its campaign ‘to take pressure off of the legal aid budget’.
Maura McGowan QC, chairman of the bar, said: ‘The Bar Council is delighted to hear today’s agreement to unfreeze wealthy defendants' assets so that they can be used to meet their legal costs. Since 2010 we have been campaigning for this move to take pressure off a legal aid system, which the government has already squeezed to breaking point.
‘We urge the Ministry of Justice to use this opportunity to ensure that those most in need can have effective access to justice.’