The government has decided, no doubt in an attempt to cut payments from central funds to defendants who are not eligible for legal aid, to reduce the amount of payments from central funds to no more than the legal aid rates. All well and good if this was truly fair.
However, equality of arms and fairness or proportionality also means that all prosecuting authorities should not claim costs against a convicted defendant in a magistrates’ court, youth court or Crown court at a rate greater than that which the defendant’s solicitor would receive from the Legal Services Commission for defending a case.
This is only fair and proper. However, there will be howls from the Crown Prosecution Service and, especially, those local authorities which frequently claim far higher amounts and at commercial rates for lawyers, than legal aid-funded solicitors are paid in contested cases.
Twice in the relatively recent past, I have raised this argument before district judges when the question of costs has arisen. In both cases, my argument that the defendant should pay no more than the basic legal aid fee for a contested trial, was accepted. I noted that the claims by the CPS and a local authority were over four times the amounts payable to my firm.
Is this an example of the ‘law of unintended consequences’?
Julian Young, Julian Young & Co, Marylebone, London