Report (3rd Day)

Part of Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill – in the House of Lords at 11:15 pm on 12th March 2012.

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Photo of Lord Thomas of Gresford Lord Thomas of Gresford Liberal Democrat 11:15 pm, 12th March 2012

My Lords, Amendment 105A is in substitution for Amendment 105, which was drafted in identical terms to the amendment that I moved in Committee. As your Lordships will recall, my concern is that a person who has had his assets frozen should have those assets counted as financial resources when his application for legal aid is considered. At this time of night I do not think that a large exposition of that concept is needed, but I point to the differences between this amendment and the amendment moved in Committee. It was suggested by the Minister that you cannot easily unfreeze the assets of a person who is a criminal. I decided that I would do my best to show how simply it could be done by including in the Bill the conditions that could be applied. Amendment 105A states:

"A restraint order may be made subject to an exception for the provision of reasonable legal expenses in criminal proceedings in the Crown Court"-

I am not referring to the magistrates' court-whether or not they relate to the offence for which the person has been arrested, subject to certain conditions. Those conditions are an application to be made to the court,

"where the offence for which they are required is to be tried".

Further,

"notice shall be given of the application to the prosecutor or the Director"- of Public Prosecutions-

"the application shall be supported by a costs budget verified by the solicitor to the alleged offender".

Further,

"the budget shall be calculated on the basis of current legal aid rates".

We are not suggesting that frozen assets should be released so that a locked-up defendant's lawyer can drive around in a Rolls-Royce. He should receive remuneration as if it was a legal aid case but it would not come out of public funds-it would come out of the restrained assets. If such an order were made, it is very important that it should not be prejudicial to a co-defendant. One would not wish to see a defendant gaining an advantage by employing the leading Silk in the field of fraud in which he may have been engaged whereas his co-defendant was not able to do so.

Finally, the amendment states:

"The court shall supervise the course of an order ... and may from time to time review the order on the application by the prosecutor or the Director, or by or on behalf of the alleged offender".

It seems to me that this is a straightforward, simple code that could be introduced to permit the frozen assets of an alleged offender to be unfrozen for the purposes of his defence. I hope that the Government will accept this or something like it. I beg to move.