Monday, April 12, 2010

Legal Aid And The MPs

Oldman has emailed and a few chaps in the pub have asked why the three Members of Parliament who are accused of fraud over their expense claims are to receive Legal Aid from public funds.
I am far from being an expert on Legal Aid. Over the years its grant has decreasingly been the business of justices, and nowadays it is firmly in the maw of the Ministry of Justice (Is it only me who finds that name sinister in a 1984 kind of way?). What I do know is that the two main tests for a grant of Legal Aid are the Interests of Justice test and the means test. A simple (speeding, shoplifting, Class B possession) charge with no legal issues, leaving the court with a simple decision on the facts, is never going to pass the IoJ test. Sometimes, however, simple cases can involve complex points of law that a layman has no chance of putting across, and Legal Aid is granted. Even when the IoJ test is satisfied, if someone passes the rather modest means thresholds, they will still find themselves having to pay up.
Looking (as a complete outsider) at the trial of the MPs, the question of their intent (essential to a conviction) is likely to be much fought over, since the unforgivably lax attitude of the Commons' staff seems to have amounted to a nod and a wink in some cases. Toss in the probable argument over MPs' Bill of Rights immunity, and the amount of legal input required will in all fairness justify public funding.
If the MPs are convicted (and I make no comment on that) the Judge would be at liberty to order reparation, contributions to costs, and much more, so they would not escape financial sanctions.
Let's see. Justice is never cheap, and a case this complex may prove very expensive indeed, but the principles involved are important and, in my view, worth paying for.

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