Three politicians accused of fiddling their expenses have won a bid to get the public to pick up their legal bill.
Court officials confirmed today that the trio of Labour MPs will receive taxpayer-funded legal aid.
David Chaytor, Elliot Morley and Jim Devine are due to go on trial later this year accused of theft by false accounting.
They are accused of stealing almost £60,000 in allowances through false mortgage applications, rent claims and invoices for services.
The cost of preparing their defence and of their legal representatives is likely to run into six figures, depending on the length of the trial.
But it could spiral far higher as the men threaten to take their battle to have the case against them thrown out to the Supreme Court.
Lord Hanningfield, who is accused of making false claims for travel allowances, has not made an application for legal aid, the court official added.
The three MPs have brought together some of the country's most eminent barristers, who can charge hundreds of pounds an hour, to fight their cases.
They have already told judges they should be dealt with by Parliamentary authorities instead of the courts.
Barrister Julian Knowles said the defendants will claim to be protected by parliamentary privilege, covered in the 1689 Bill of Rights.
There is now likely to be protracted legal argument over whether the men should face trial at all later this year.
The opening shots will be fired during a two-day hearing before trial judge Mr Justice Saunders at Southwark Crown Court from May 27.
An HM Courts Service spokesman confirmed an application for legal aid for the three men was granted last Friday.
Legal argument was originally due to take place from May 4 onwards, but this was rescheduled because some representatives were unavailable.
There has already been speculation that the total cost of prosecuting the four could exceed £3 million.
Scotland Yard said its inquiry into the expenses scandal has cost £508,500 so far, with the final bill likely to be considerably higher.
Mr Knowles, a leading junior barrister who represented the three MPs at their first magistrates' court appearance, declined to comment.
A spokesman for Edward Fitzgerald QC, who is due to represent at least two of the MPs at the crown court, said he was not aware of a legal aid decision.
Bury North MP Chaytor, 60, of Todmorden, Lancashire, is accused of falsely claiming rent on a London flat he owned, falsely filing invoices for IT work and renting a property from his mother, against regulations.
Scunthorpe MP Morley, 57, of Winterton, North Lincolnshire, allegedly falsely claimed £30,428 in interest payments between 2004 and 2007 towards a mortgage on his home which he had already paid off.
Livingston MP Devine, 56, of Bathgate, West Lothian, is said to have wrongly submitted two invoices worth a total of £5,505 for services provided by Armstrong Printing Limited.
He also faced a second charge alleging that he dishonestly claimed cleaning and maintenance costs of £3,240 by submitting false invoices from Tom O'Donnell Hygiene and Cleaning Services.
Former Essex County Council leader Lord Hanningfield, 69, faces six charges of making dishonest claims for travelling allowances.
The politicians could face up to seven years in jail if found guilty of stealing taxpayers' cash. Each defendant will be tried separately.
The Tories hit out at the revelation, with shadow schools secretary Michael Gove telling a press conference in central London: "It's a slap in the face for every decent taxpayer in this country that these individuals should be continuing to use public money to fund their defence."
Mr Gove also said Labour had pledged to reduce spending on legal aid both in its manifesto and in radio interviews, adding: "It shows that you simply cannot trust a promise, either in this manifesto or uttered on Radio 4, by Labour Cabinet ministers during this campaign."Reuse content