Five courts to pilot plans next year

Legal expenses insurance could be extended to Crown Court cases following plans to make defendants pay their own legal costs.

Five Crown Courts, including Blackfriars, Bradford and Swansea are to pilot the plans in January next year, and if successful, the scheme could eventually be rolled out nationally.

It follows a similar move introduced two years ago that required defendants to pay their own legal costs in magistrates’ courts after means testing.

Arc Legal Assistance covers Police Federation officers for magistrates’ court cases concerning off-duty incidents and police-on-police matters.

Director Richard Finan said: “We do it a little bit for West Midlands, but only for the magistrates’ court. We are talking to the Federation about extending this scheme. It is a possibility for us to offer legal insurance to people other than police officers, as we do have the expertise built up.”

A Ministry of Justice spokesman said those with a disposable income of more than £3,395 will need to contribute towards their own legal representation.

They will also need capital assets and equity of £30,000. If the defendant is found not guilty, some or all of the costs will be recouped.

However, the plans face significant opposition from legal rights groups. Young Legal Aid Lawyers (YLAL) said in response to the consultation: “YLAL believes that means testing will fundamentally undermine access to justice for those who are unable to afford it and who are frequently innocent. It will inevitably lead to the risk of miscarriages of justice.

“YLAL emphasises that the income level at which significant contributions will be required from defendants and their families is cripplingly low. This is not a scheme designed simply to make very wealthy defendants pay their fees.”