§ Lord Mountevans
asked Her Majesty's Government:
What action they propose to take in the light of the responses to the consultation paper Legal Aid for the Apparently Wealthy.
§ The Lord Chancellor (Lord Mackay of Clashfern)
Fifty responses to the consultation paper were received. I am grateful to all those who expressed views. As a result of the consultation exercise, I am planning to take the following action:
- 1. I intend that a special investigations unit should be established to handle means assessments in both civil and criminal cases where the applicant's financial circumstances are unusually complex. I have invited the Legal Aid Board to advise me on the feasibility of establishing such a unit, and on the practical arrangements necessary to establish and run it.
- 2. I intend to amend the legal aid regulations to provide those assessing the means of applicants for legal aid with a discretionary power to include in the means assessment the assets of friends, relatives and children where these appear to be providing a significant material advantage to the applicant.
- 3. I intend to examine further the practical implications of allowing the trial judge in criminal cases to release details of the statement of means of an applicant for legal aid in specified circumstances.
- 4. I intend to take powers to require applicants for legal aid to transfer ownership of any assets that they fail to declare in their application to the legal aid authorities so that the money disbursed in legal aid can be recovered from those assets.
- 5. I intend to amend the legal aid regulations to provide that there shall be a limit of £100,000 on the amount of equity value in a house that is ignored in the legal aid means assessment. I also intend to limit the maximum amount of mortgage that can be offset against the equity value of a house to £100,000, and to limit the amount of mortgage repayment allowable against income to the amount due on a £100,000 mortgage.
I was persuaded by the weight of the responses that the other proposals in the consultation paper should not be pursued.
The overwhelming weight of the responses supported the view expressed in the consultation paper that it would not be right to impose nationality restrictions on the availability of either criminal or civil legal aid. I therefore propose to make no change in the present arrangements on this point. Assets held abroad by those applying for legal aid in this country will continue to be taken into account in the means assessment process.