Wealthy face bar on legal aid

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The Independent Online
Taxpayers' bill for two defendants The public cost of mounting The tale of two trials Jawad Hashim's Civil Legal Aid Bill. The total costs claimed are pounds 4.1m of which pounds 2.8 has been paid.

To Counsel total pounds 1.318m.

Colin Ross-Monro QC pounds 671,111.

Ian Brownlie QC pounds 69,178.

Hugo Page pounds 438,523.

Adam Lewis pounds 139,190.

To Solicitors, Landau and Scanlan, London pounds 644,000.

Disbursements for experts, eg accountants pounds 835,000.

Ernest Saunders Criminal Legal Aid Bill.

Trial: Counsel: Richard Ferguson QC pounds 315,987.

Tony Shaw QC pounds 258,581.

Solicitors: Pannone Blackburn, Manchester pounds 650,573.

Landau and Landau, London pounds 46,901.

Appeal: Counsel pounds 35,487.

Solicitors pounds 34,925.

Proposals to prevent the rich obtaining huge amounts of legal aid to fight civil and criminal cases are to be published next month.

Prompted by concern that taxpayers have paid the million-pound-plus legal bills of a string of businessmen, Lord Mackay, the Lord Chancellor, is to issue a consultation paper focusing on 'apparently wealthy individuals' as part of his wider review of legal aid.

The latest in the litany, which includes Asil Nadir, former chairman of Polly Peck, Ernest Saunders, former Guinness chairman, and financier Peter Clowes, is Dr Jawad Hashim, who so far has received pounds 2.8m in legal aid in a civil action in which he was ordered to pay pounds 133m damages to his former employer.

Normally, wealthy people such as Dr Hashim, who reputedly owns six homes and employs servants, would not qualify for aid. But the Benefits Agency of the Legal Aid Board, which decides on eligibility, cannot take into account any assets either claimed by the other party in the case or frozen by court orders. The taxpayer, in the form of the Legal Aid Board has the last claim on a defendant's wealth.

A change in this situation is expected to form one of the proposals by Lord Mackay next month. It would go some way to answering the concerns of politicians and lawyers that the wealthy are benefiting while thousands of less affluent people are denied access to justice because they fail to qualify for legal aid.

But Lord Mackay is unlikely to bow to pressure to deny foreign nationals legal aid in British courts. In a speech to barristers in London last night, he said: 'Our legal processes and our courts are not reserved to British subjects. Anybody who has a dispute which the courts have jurisdiction to hear is entitled to be heard. Whether in criminal or civil cases, the interests of justice do not end at national boundaries.'

Lord Mackay was criticised last year when, aiming to reduce the annual pounds 1.4bn spent on legal aid, he cut the earnings limit for eligibility from pounds 145 a week to pounds 70. Many argued only the rich and the poor had access to justice.

This week, the Bar Council proposed that anyone found not to have disclosed all assets should forfeit undisclosed assets to the Legal Aid Board.