Cap on court payments to defendants ruled unlawful

A Government scheme which left many defendants having to pay to clear their name in court was ruled unlawful yesterday.

Labour ministers introduced the new regulations last autumn to save the public purse millions in criminal trials. They limited the costs awarded to people who funded their own defence to the same amount as for those on legal aid.

Today, High Court judges quashed the regulations, saying they were legally flawed and meant "that a defendant falsely accused by the State will have to pay from his own pocket to establish his innocence". The ruling could mean the new government having to pay out hundreds of thousands of pounds to defendants cleared since October.

Lord Justice Elias, sitting with Mr Justice Keith, said the new regulations would have been "a decisive departure from past principles".

He said they jettisoned the notion "that a defendant ought not to have to pay towards the cost of defending himself against what might in some cases be wholly false accusations, provided he incurs no greater expenditure than is reasonable and proper to secure his defence".