HC Deb 04 February 1985 vol 72 c608
51. Mr. Dubs

asked the Attorney-General what arrangements Her Majesty's Government have made to monitor the effects of the means assessment and contributions system introduced into criminal legal aid by the Legal Aid Act 1982.

The Solicitor-General (Sir Patrick Mayhew)

Statistics returned by magistrates' courts will now include details of contribution orders made by the courts.

Mr. Dubs

Although I welcome the decision to begin to monitor these arrangements, will the Solicitor-General tell us in more detail how the monitoring will be carried out, bearing in mind that many believe that means-testing is a waste of time because the high administrative costs involved exceed any savings that may be made?

The Solicitor-General

The principal way in which the monitoring is being carried out is through the more accurate and simpler form of return that has been in use since 1 March last year. The magistrates' courts are returning those forms, but unfortunately we do not yet have all the forms for last year. However, the courts are providing better information. My right hon. and noble Friend the Lord Chancellor is also considering the use of survey research over relatively small areas.

Mr. Ryman

Is not an enourmous amount of public money wasted by giving legal aid to wealthy criminals who say that they cannot liquidise their assets between committal and trial? Would it not be fairer to give money to poor defendants, who genuinely cannot afford legal representation, and to force rich defendants to pay for their own defences?

The Solicitor-General

Although I have much sympathy with the underlying thought of the hon. Gentleman's question, it would probably be impossible to devise a legal aid scheme which could be operated with absolute certainty that there was no waste. Since legal aid is as much in the interests of justice because it enables the court to do its work efficiently, we must err on the side of liberality. However, I shall ensure that the hon. Gentleman's question is brought to the attention of the Lord Chancellor.