Legal aid bid could see cars seized
Criminals who leave taxpayers to foot their legal aid bill - despite being able to pay - face having their cars seized under a new scheme.
The new Motor Vehicle Orders initiative will allow action to be taken against those who have sufficient financial means to contribute towards their own legal aid costs, but have then failed to make the payments owed, the Ministry of Justice said.
Under the scheme, the Legal Aid Agency (LAA) will be able to clamp vehicles identified as belonging to the defendant.
After conviction, the LAA can then go back to court for permission to sell the car, putting money raised towards unpaid legal aid costs.
Justice Secretary Chris Grayling said: "Convicted criminals have cheated innocent taxpayers for too long by dodging requirements to contribute to the legal costs of their defence. I am determined that where they can pay, they will pay.
"Legal aid is not free - it is taxpayers' money. We must bring down the cost of legal aid and our starting point has to be that law-abiding citizens don't foot the bill when those concerned could pay themselves.
"With £34 million owed to taxpayers from the last three years alone, it's time to get tough. I am clear - you can't avoid paying your legal aid bill and expect to keep a fancy car on the driveway."
The scheme launches as Mr Grayling pushes through a raft of controversial reforms in his ''transforming legal aid'' consultation in a bid to save £220 million a year.
The Justice Secretary has previously denied that innocent defendants will be coerced into pleading guilty as a result of changes.
He told MPs he did not accept that plans to pay lawyers the same fee for a not guilty plea as they would be paid for a guilty plea - which typically takes up less of their time - would lead to undue influence to plead.