Criminals may have to pay for own defence

People convicted of a crime may have to pay for their own defence, the government announced today.

“A number of people could afford to contribute to their defence in whole or in part in the Crown Court and the government is committed to them doing so,” justice minister Lord Bach said.

“It is right that convicted defendants who are able to pay for their legal costs should do so, rather than the taxpayer. This will allow us to focus our limited resources on helping those individuals who most need it.”

The announcement came as a result of consultations by the Legal Services Commission and the Ministry of Justice addressing concerns that well-off defendants could pay for their own defence and instead opt for their entitled free defence.

The move would allegedly save taxpayer money as funding for legal aid has risen to £2 billion a year in the last 25 years.

“The proposals set out in these consultation papers will fairly and effectively require all those defendants who are convicted and who can genuinely afford to pay some or all of their legal aid costs to do so,” said Carolyn Regan, chief executive of the Legal Services Commission.

The consultations proposed two different options for legal aid reform: the first allowing for everyone to receive free legal aid until after conviction, when the better-off would be required to reimburse tax-payers; the second would prohibit individuals who fail to apply for free legal aid from being reimbursed for privately contracting legal help and place a cap on the central fund for acquitted defendants’ legal aid rates.

The consultations end on 29 January 2009.