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Petition Stop Grooming Gang members accessing public funds to fight their convictions

Grooming Gang members who have been charged, convicted and sentenced for raping children or other sexual offences are currently able to access public funds to fight their convictions and/or any deportation efforts. We call on the government to remove their access to public funds.

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People convicted of Group-Based Child Sexual Exploitation can spend years and hundreds of thousands of pounds of public money fighting their convictions. This seems like an abuse of legal aid which is there to help the vulnerable or disadvantaged to achieve justice.

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Government responded

This response was given on 23 November 2021

Anyone charged, convicted and sentenced should have access to legal aid for an appeal, including so-called “grooming gang” members.

Access to legal aid means the courts can be confident individuals have had a fair trial and the guilty have been properly convicted and sentenced. Decisions about legal aid funding are a matter for the Legal Aid Agency (LAA), which is responsible for administering the criminal and civil legal aid schemes across England and Wales. As the LAA operates independently of Government, Ministers can neither intervene in, nor comment on decisions made about the grant of funding in individual cases.

The legal aid rules, made by Parliament, state that funding should be available if the case is held in a British court and an individual has no means to pay. Access to justice is a fundamental right, and everyone is entitled to the protection of the law regardless of the allegations against them. However, public funding will only be granted if the individual meets the ‘Interests of Justice’ merits test as well as the financial means test.

The ‘Interests of Justice’ merits test identifies if the individual requires the services of a lawyer and for those facing trial at the Crown Court, this test is always passed. This is because the case is more likely to attract a custodial sentence. Where an individual’s liberty is at stake, the merits test will always be met. If a lawyer is required, the means test subsequently determines whether the provision of defence services to the defendant should be funded by the state through the criminal legal aid scheme or fall to the individual.

At the Crown Court, defendants with disposable annual income that exceeds £37,500 are required to pay their own costs. However, even if legal aid is provided, the defendant may be liable to contribute towards their defence costs from their income, and if convicted, may be liable to pay any outstanding defence costs from their capital assets. In order to fulfil its duty to the taxpayer, the LAA routinely scrutinises and assesses all Crown Court claims submitted by defence lawyers to ensure that all items of expenditure have been reasonably incurred.

Ministry of Justice

This is a revised response. The Petitions Committee requested a response which more directly addressed the request of the petition. You can find the original response towards the bottom of the petition page (https://petition.parliament.uk/petitions/590454)

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Original Government response

Any individual accused of a crime has the opportunity to access legal aid, subject to meeting the ‘Interests of Justice’ merits test and satisfying the financial means test.

Decisions about legal aid funding are a matter for the Legal Aid Agency (LAA), which is responsible for administering the criminal and civil legal aid schemes across England and Wales. As the LAA operates independently of Government, Ministers can neither intervene in, nor comment on decisions made about the grant of funding in individual cases.

The legal aid rules, made by Parliament, state that funding should be available if the case is held in a British court and an individual has no means to pay. Access to justice is a fundamental right, and everyone is entitled to the protection of the law regardless of the allegations against them. However, public funding will only be granted if the individual meets the ‘Interests of Justice’ merits test as well as satisfies the financial means test.

The merits test identifies if the individual requires the services of a lawyer and for those facing trial at the Crown Court, this test is always passed. If a lawyer is required, the means test subsequently determines whether the provision of defence services to the defendant should be funded by the state through the criminal legal aid scheme or fall to the individual.

At the Crown Court, criminal legal aid funding is available to all defendants other than where their disposable annual income exceeds £37,500. However, where legal aid is provided, the defendant may be liable to contribute towards their defence costs from their income, and if convicted, may be liable to pay any outstanding defence costs from their capital assets. In order to fulfil its duty to the tax payer, the LAA routinely scrutinises and assesses all Crown Court claims submitted by defence lawyers to ensure that all items of expenditure have been reasonably incurred.

Ministry of Justice

This response was given on 11 October 2021. The Petitions Committee then requested a revised response, that more directly addressed the request of the petition.

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