COURTS : Legal aid accounts challenged

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In a report to Parliament yesterday, Sir John Bourn, the Comptoller and Auditor General, said that the National Audit Office had again refused to certify the accounts for the criminal legal aid scheme because of sloppy application of regulations by magistrates' courts. Sir John explained that he was qualifying the accounts for 1995-6, as he had in each of the years since 1990-91.

For applicants claiming free legal aid, 37 per cent provided insufficient evidence of receipt of a qualifying benefit and 9 per cent provided no evidence at all, an NAO survey found last year. For applicants contributing to costs, 15 per cent were not pressed to produce evidence of earnings, proof of offsetting allowances was obtained in only 21 per cent of cases, and there were errors in 38 per cent of cases examined. Patricia Wynn Davies