Defendant scheme ruled unlawful

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Two senior judges have ruled that a Government scheme that requires defendants "to pay from their own pockets to establish their innocence" is unlawful.

The scheme was introduced by the former Labour government as a way of saving the public purse millions of pounds.

When it was launched last autumn, ministers argued that it was reasonable to set the amount capable of being awarded out of central funds to privately-funded defendants at legal aid rates.

This way, they said, defendants would not receive the full amount spent on clearing their names in criminal trials.

But at the High Court, two judges ruled the scheme was legally flawed.

They said the measures put in place meant "that a defendant falsely accused by the State will have to pay from his own pocket to establish his innocence".

Lord Justice Elias, sitting with Mr Justice Keith, said that was "a decisive departure from past principles".

He said they jettisoned the notion "that a defendant ought not to have to pay towards the cost of defending himself against what might in some cases be wholly false accusations, provided he incurs no greater expenditure than is reasonable and proper to secure his defence".

The judge said: "Any change in that principle is one of some constitutional moment… I would be surprised if Parliament had intended that it could be properly achieved by sub-delegated legislation which is not even the subject of Parliamentary scrutiny".