HC Deb 10 January 2000 vol 342 cc83-4W
Mr. Key

To ask the Secretary of State for Defence (1) if(a) staff (i) in the NAAFI, (ii) in DERA and (iii) of civilian contractors and (b) their dependants are eligible for forces legal aid; [102585]

(2) for each of the three armed services, who is eligible for forces legal aid; and what are the criteria which must be met; [102587]

(3) what is the sum available this year for legal aid in respect of each armed service; and what sums will be available in the next three years to take account of proposed legislation in the Armed Forces Discipline Bill [Lords]; [102586]

(4) under what circumstances civilians are eligible for forces legal aid. [102588]

Mr. Spellar

[holding answer 13 December 1999]: Legal aid is available, from Service sources, for those who are to be tried by court-martial, who wish to appeal to the Courts-Martial Appeal Court, who are to be tried by a standing civilian court (the equivalent of a magistrates court which sits outside the UK), or who are to be tried by a criminal court outside the UK for an off-duty offence.

The criteria that must be met by anyone applying for Service legal aid are that they must be subject to Service law (that is, are bound by one of the three single Service Discipline Acts), and assistance must be in the interests of justice. Individuals will be required to show that they have insufficient means to obtain assistance without help from public funds (and, in the case of an incident abroad, that the host country has no equivalent scheme for non-nationals). Depending on their personal means and commitments, individuals will be required to provide a personal contribution. The MOD scheme broadly mirrors the criteria applied by the civilian legal aid authorities in England and Wales.

Those covered under the Service scheme are Service personnel in the UK and overseas, and attached civilians (including defence Agency personnel) and dependants abroad. However, there has been a long-standing policy that UK personnel employed abroad by a number of specified organisations, including the NAAFI, can make use of the Service legal aid scheme, subject to the funds being subsequently repaid. (It is a matter for the organisations concerned whether they or the individuals involved undertake the required reimbursement.) Civilian contractors, whether engaged either in work in the UK or abroad, are not eligible for Service legal aid as they are not subject to Service law.

The sums available this year for Service legal aid are £100,000 for the Royal Navy, £770,000 for the Army and £146,000 for the Royal Air Force.

The increase in Service legal aid as a result of the legislation proposed in the Armed Forces Discipline Bill will depend on the number and nature of cases handled.