Concern at Maxwells' legal aid

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At least pounds 394,000 in legal aid has been paid to the lawyers of Kevin and Ian Maxwell, sons of the late Robert Maxwell, who face fraud conspiracy charges.

The Lord Chancellor's Department said lawyers acting for Kevin Maxwell had received pounds 224,562 while those representing his brother had been paid pounds 170,117. The trial should take place next year.

The disclosure yesterday will increase concern about legal aid payments to those whom Lord Mackay, the Lord Chancellor, termed 'apparently wealthy individuals'. Proposals to deal with this are to be published by the Government next month.

The legal aid figures for the Maxwell brothers were revealed in a reply to a written parliamentary question tabled by Stephen Byers, Labour MP for Wallsend.

The pounds 394,000 paid out so far is for criminal proceedings in the magistrates courts but the total may be higher. John Taylor, Parliamentary Secretary in the Lord Chancellor's Department, said: 'Details of payments to date in the Crown Court are not readily available in the form requested.'

Mr Taylor said that lawyers acting for Kevin Maxwell in civil proceedings had so far received pounds 22,158. The Lord Chancellor has ordered an inquiry into civil legal aid in this case but has not intervened over the criminal legal aid.

Mr Byers said the civil action was in respect of the successful blocking of a planned show Maxwell: The Musical, and a BBC documentary about the Maxwell affair.

He continued: 'We are very much at the early stages of the criminal proceedings and they have already run up a bill of over one-third of a million pounds, which would indicate that the taxpayer is going to be picking up a bill of several millions for each of the brothers.

'That highlights the lottery that the legal aid system has become, when people who are still living a lavish lifestyle, like the Maxwell brothers, can obtain full legal aid, while many people just above the poverty line are having legal aid denied to them.'