Legal aid for Maxwell brothers questioned

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The Independent Online
THE LORD Chancellor was urged yesterday to say whether Kevin and Ian Maxwell, sons of the late newspaper proprietor Robert Maxwell, would be granted legal aid when they stand trial for fraud later this year, writes John Willcock.

Stephen Byers, Labour MP for Wallsend, said he understood that legal aid would be available because of a loophole in regulations which means disputed assets will be disregarded in deciding if an applicant needs financial help.

Mr Byers said that if this were true in the case of the Maxwells, Lord Mackay of Clashfern, the Lord Chancellor, should investigate 'as a matter of urgency' how the loophole could be closed.

The MP also alleged that legal aid had already been made available to allow the Maxwell brothers to bring legal actions 'to stop newspaper, television and radio from commenting on the Maxwell affair in general'.

In September 1992, Kevin Maxwell was made Britain's biggest bankrupt, with debts of more than pounds 400m, on a petition presented by the liquidators of Bishopsgate Investment Management, a company from which millions of pounds of Maxwell pension funds had been removed.

That month Mr Maxwell sold his neo-Georgian house in Chelsea - once valued at pounds 1.7m - for an unknown price. A similar attempt to make Ian Maxwell bankrupt failed the following month.

A spokeswoman for the Lord Chancellor's Department said: 'The Maxwells, like any other people, are eligible for legal aid if they meet means-test and interests-of-justice criteria.'

But she disputed Mr Byers' claim of a loophole involving the disregarding of disputed assets.

'If someone's assets are the subject of a criminal investigation, they are frozen, so the party involved has no access to them. If the case goes through, quite often legal aid will be recovered from those assets afterwards.'