QC legal aid bonanza sparks ministerial back lash

By Jonathan Ames

10 December 2012 at 13:52 BST

Debate over whether the British public is getting value for money from its legal aid system ratcheted up at the weekend, following reports that six top barristers hauled in more than half a million pounds each from the public purse last year.

Looking after the pennies

Looking after the pennies

UK taxpayers coughed up £2 billion over 12 months for the legal aid system, making it, according to a report in The Daily Telegraph newspaper, one of the most expensive publicly funded schemes in the world. The newspaper reports that the recent figures have confirmed in ministers’ minds that they must get a grip on spending on the 63-year-old system, not least by reducing payments to barristers.

Biggest billers

The recent figures from the UK’s Ministry of Justice show a QC based in the Welsh capital of Cardiff, John Charles Rees, to be the biggest legal aid winner, with the tax fraud defence specialist coining more than £550,000 from the public purse. Other big winners from the legal aid fund were Mark Milliken-Smith QC, Charles Bott QC, Rex Tedd QC, Leonard Smith QC and Balbir Singh.
However, barristers were not the only lawyers highlighted by the report. The newspaper says the figures showed that Duncan Lewis Solicitors – a predominantly London-based, multi-office, specialist immigration practice – was the biggest law firm biller of the fund, receiving £16.6 million from the civil legal aid budget.

Wealthy defendants

Ministerial concern focuses on reportedly wealthy white collar crime defendants being funded by the legal aid system. The newspaper highlights the recent case of former Polly Peck head Asil Nadir, who received nearly £5m in legal aid. Despite claiming to be bankrupt, says the Telegraph, Nadir rented a £23,000-a-month London residence during his trial.
The newspaper quotes the UK Justice Secretary, Chris Grayling, as saying that Britain has ‘one of the most expensive legal aid systems in the world. It’s very important that we bear down on its cost, not least because we can’t have aspects of it that undermine the credibility of the whole legal aid system in the eyes of the public’.


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