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Legal Services Commission - Crown Court defendants to be means tested

Five Crown Courts were yesterday the first in England and Wales to introduce a new scheme that will ensure people convicted of a crime contribute to their defence costs, where they have the means to do so.

The Crown Courts in Blackfriars, Bradford, Norwich, Preston and Swansea will introduce Crown Court Means Testing. It is estimated that the scheme will deliver savings of £50 million in legal aid every year, which will enable the limited resources available to be targeted at those who need them most.

Legal aid is publicly funded and ensures access to justice for those who need help with their legal problems. Last year (2008/09), legal aid helped a record number of people, providing legal support in almost three million civil and criminal cases, nearly double the rate in 2005/06.   

The Crown Court Means Testing Scheme is a joint government initiative run by the Legal Services Commission (LSC) and Her Majesty’s Courts Service (HMCS).  It ensures that legal aid is provided on the basis of both need and ability to pay, building on the means testing scheme introduced in magistrates’ courts in October 2006, which has delivered savings of over £80 million of public money to date.

Means testing will ensure that those people without the means to pay for their defence will continue to receive free legal aid. However, it is anticipated that approximately 25% of defendants will be required to contribute to their defence costs. 

Lord Bach, Minister for Legal Aid, welcomed the scheme: “It’s always been right that those who are convicted of a criminal offence and who can genuinely afford to should contribute to their legal representation. After the successful introduction of means testing in the magistrates’ courts, it is now being introduced in the Crown Court. Any savings made will help us deliver more funds to target those most in need.

“We have been working with legal professionals to ensure a smooth introduction of the system and are confident the wider roll-out of the scheme during the year will deliver significant savings to the legal aid budget."

Carolyn Regan, Chief Executive of the Legal Services Commission, said: “Legal aid is in place to ensure that those who face real hardship have access to the justice system and get the help they need. While demand for legal aid continues to rise, legal aid costs have stabilised to deliver the best possible value for public money, while continuing to provide legal advice and representation for as many people as possible.”

For further information, please contact the Legal Services Commission Press Office on 020 7783 7218

Notes to editors

On 11 January 2010, five Crown Courts and 23 magistrates’ courts (listed below) will introduce a new means test for defendants in criminal cases.  All applications for a representation order or notice of appeal that start at these 23 magistrates’ courts, will be subject to means testing.

 

Crown Courts Magistrates’ Courts
Preston Crown Court 

Blackpool (Fylde Coast)
Preston
Lancaster
Blackburn, Darwen and Ribble Valley
Chorley (South West Lancashire)
Furness and District
Fleetwood

Norwich Crown Court  Great Yarmouth
Kings Lynn (West Norfolk)
Norwich
Blackfriars Crown Court Highbury Corner
Bradford Crown Court  Bradford
Calderdale and Halifax
Huddersfield
Keighley (Bingley)
Skipton
Swansea Crown Court Swansea
Neath
Llanelli
Haverfordwest (Pembrokeshire)
Port Talbot
Aberystwyth (Ceridigion)
Cardigan

 

Courts not covered in the list above will continue with existing arrangements until the national roll-out of the scheme, scheduled to start in April 2010.

For further details of the scheme, please refer to the PDF document: ‘Your Defence in the Courts’.  In terms of payments, we would like to highlight that:

· the income threshold for the scheme has been set so that only those who truly can afford to contribute towards their defence costs (and who are guilty) will pay.
· there will be a cap on the number of payments from income a defendant will have to make before the trial so they don’t overpay.
· there is a hardship route that safeguards those defendants who believe they genuinely cannot afford to meet the terms of their Contribution Order (for example, if they have essential costs not previously considered in the means test).

The five Crown Courts have received support to prepare for the changes from the Legal Services Commission, which runs the legal aid scheme in England and Wales, and HM Courts Service, the public body responsible for the court system in England and Wales.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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