Conservative Diary

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Tories pledge that they would stop MPs facing charges over expenses from accessing legal aid

It has emerged this afternoon that the three ex-Labour MPs facing criminal charges over their expenses - Elliot Morley, David Chaytor and Jim Devine - have successfully claimed and received legal aid.

David Cameron has responded angrily from Loughborough, where he is campaigning this afternoon:

“It is a complete outrage that people who wouldn’t even stand in the dock and answer the charges now expect everyone to pay for their legal defence. A Conservative Government would have a review of legal aid;  and  there won’t be legal aid available for Members of Parliament who are accused of fiddling their expenses.”

Meanwhile, spekaing at a press conference in London, shadow schools secretary Michael Gove said that this news was:

"A slap in the face for every decent taxpayer in this country."

It has also been confirmed that Lord Hanningfield, the one Tory peer facing charges (abeit now suspended from the Tory whip), was not claimimg legal aid for his defence.

Tuesday 10.15am update:

Sky News is reporting the Prime Minister is now seeking to make the ex-MPs repay whatever legal aid they have received. Brown is quoted as telling BBC Radio Derby:

"I think this money will have to be paid back by these politicians. I think the evidence is that people in their position will have to pay back the money - or most of the money - they get in legal aid. We have actually abolished this free legal aid from the end of June, so it has to be means-tested from the end of June and they wouldn't have got it in these circumstances. The law has changed, so I think the money will have to be paid back."

1.30pm update:

The Legal Services Commission, which administers legal aid, has cast doubt on whether Gordon Brown has the power to make the pledge he did above. Quoted in the Guardian:

"Whether or not they have to pay back the money in part or in full is at the discretion of the trial judge," said an LSC spokesman. "At the end of each case, the LSC team looks into people's costs and assets and presents the information to the judge. He or she then decides whether it is appropriate for the defendant to pay some or all of their legal costs."

Shadow justice secretary Dominic Grieve added:

“This is a hollow promise from Gordon Brown. He must know it can’t be fulfilled as he has no jurisdiction over ex-MPs. Judges decide whether defendants should have to pay costs in this country, not Gordon Brown.”

Jonathan Isaby

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