Legal aid warning for wealthy criminals

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Wealthy criminals who owe millions of pounds in legal aid face having their cars and assets seized under Government plans.

The proposals are designed to tackle criminals who use legal aid to pay for their defence and then refuse to pay back what is owed when they are convicted.

Just £1.8m of the £10m owed last year – less than a fifth – was collected, the Ministry of Justice

Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said: “Convicted criminals have cheated innocent taxpayers for too long by dodging requirements to contribute to the legal costs of their defence.

“It is not right that law-abiding citizens foot the bill when those concerned can pay.”

He went on: “These proposals set out robust measures that will see more costs recuperated from criminals.

“This includes measures like seizing assets, such as cars, from criminals who attempt to evade paying back these fees by hiding income and savings.”

All defendants in crown courts are granted legal aid for the cost of their defence, but are then expected to pay back some or all of the costs if convicted, depending on their earnings and assets.

Under the proposals, convicted criminals who are believed to have assets but who refuse to provide the required information to assess how much they should pay back “will then simply be pursued for the entire cost of their legal aid bill”, the Ministry of Justice said.

Others who hide assets or earnings to reduce their bill would be faced with a new demand if the extent of their wealth came to light after their legal aid contribution was imposed.

And those who fail to pay face having their vehicles clamped and sold in order to cover the costs.

The consultation closes on December 11.