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MoJ drops criminal cost-capping bombshell

11 November 2008

The Criminal Law Solicitors Association has attacked as “appalling” a proposal to deny acquitted, privately-paying defendants the right to recover their costs in full.

Under the plan central funds payments of costs to acquitted defendants, individuals and companies, would be capped to the relevant legal aid rates.

“This is a stealth tax on Middle England,” Rodney Warren, chairman of the CLSA said.

Warren said that when means testing was introduced into the magistrates’ courts, the government said central funds payments would be increased. He welcomed the MoJ’s proposal, in a separate consultation launched last week, to pay solicitors for the extra work involved when means-testing is extended to the Crown Courts.

In a joint consultation with the LSC, the MoJ is proposing that where a defendant’s annual “disposable” income exceeds £3,398, they should be capable of paying privately-funded defence costs.

According to LSC figures, 42 per cent of Crown Court defendants earn less than £10,000 a year, and only 12 per cent more than £30,000. The MoJ and LSC are proposing to pay solicitors a total of £4m per year to deal with means-testing, based on the fee for an hour’s preparation work.

“We have always said that defendants who can afford to pay, should pay, though this must be balanced against the cost of cases,” said Warren.

He said he was glad that the government had acknowledged that means-testing would mean additional work for solicitors, which had to be paid for.

However he added: “We are far from convinced that the amount suggested will be an adequate reflection of the work involved in what could be a very bureaucratic process.”

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