The Ministry of Justice has announced that Crown Court means testing will be introduced from January 2010. The scheme will be adopted as a pilot scheme in five courts in January 2010, before being rolled out nationally between April and June 2010.

Under the current plans defendants with an annual disposable income of more than £3,398, capital assets of over £3,000, or £30,000 of equity in their homes will have to pay legal aid contributions while their case proceeds. If they are acquitted, the money will be paid back with interest.

When applying for legal aid defendants will be asked to provide information about their income and capital assets, to determine whether they are able to contribute some or all of their costs. The Court’s assessment will be sensitive to individual circumstances, taking into account a range of expenses and cost of living allowances to establish disposable income.

In a further cost-cutting measure, acquitted defendants who do not qualify for legal aid or want to pay privately will no longer be able to recover their costs in full but instead will be limited to the sum they would be entitled to if they were legally aided.

Andrew Church-Taylor, equity partner with Farleys comments,

“The proposals will undoubtedly cause real hardship to many wrongly prosecuted people of moderate means, and the new provisions clearly undermine the principle of being innocent until you are proven guilty. As a consequence individuals and their families should not suffer financially because the state has decided to prosecute them. Defendants should only pay costs if they are convicted.”

Commenting on the limiting of costs that can be recovered when found innocent Andrew added,

“This really is outrageous and the ultimate catch 22 scenario with an individual, unable to qualify for legal aid and being forced to pay privately to successfully defend themselves, only to find that they cannot recover the reasonable costs of their defence.”

If you would like to discuss Court proceedings you are involved in, call Farleys now and speak to an expert on 0845 287 0939 or you can  e-mail us.