Now Norwich criminals may really have to pay for their crimes
Tara GreavesNorwich Crown Court will today become one of the first in England to introduce a new scheme that will ensure people convicted of a crime contribute to their defence costs, where they can afford to - saving an estimated �50m a year nationally.Tara Greaves
Norwich Crown Court will today become one of the first in England to introduce a new scheme that will ensure people convicted of a crime contribute to their defence costs, where they can afford to - saving an estimated �50m a year nationally.
Legal aid is publicly funded and ensures access to justice for those who need help with their legal problems.
Last year, the scheme helped a record number of people, providing legal support in almost three million civil and criminal cases; nearly double the rate in 2005/06.
The Crown Court Means Testing Scheme is a joint government initiative run by the Legal Services Commission (LSC) and Her Majesty's Courts Service (HMCS).
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It ensures that legal aid is provided on the basis of both need and ability to pay, building on the means testing scheme introduced in magistrates' courts in October 2006, which has delivered savings of more than �80m of public money to date.
Means testing will ensure that those people without the means to pay for their defence will continue to receive free legal aid.
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However, it is anticipated that approximately 25pc of defendants will be required to contribute to their defence costs.
Lord Bach, minister for legal aid, said: 'It's always been right that those who are convicted of a criminal offence and, who can genuinely afford to, should contribute to their legal representation. After the successful introduction of means testing in the magistrates' courts, it is now being introduced in the crown court. Any savings made will help us deliver more funds to target those most in need.
'We have been working with legal professionals to ensure a smooth introduction of the system and are confident the wider roll-out of the scheme during the year will deliver significant savings to the legal aid budget.'
Carolyn Regan, chief executive of the legal services commission, said: 'Legal aid is in place to ensure that those who face real hardship have access to the justice system and get the help they need.
'While demand for legal aid continues to rise, legal aid costs have stabilised to deliver the best possible value for public money, while continuing to provide legal advice and representation for as many people as possible.'
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