Acquitted defendants who have not benefited from Legal Aid and have funded their defences privately will be reimbursed for their defence costs but only at Legal Aid rates in Magistrates Court cases that commence after 1st October 2012. There is no provision for costs in the Crown Court.
Historically, a defendant who was found not guilty and who was not entitled to Legal Aid would expect to be reimbursed most, if not all of his or her costs. Invariably, such an individual would expect to be charged a reasonable rate to instruct their legal team of choice.
It is highly unlikely that their legal team of choice would be prepared to represent them at Legal Aid rates. Having gone through the trauma of a criminal prosecution, if acquitted they could at least expect to be reimbursed the costs of their defence.
Not so from October 1st. Having been vindicated in the Courts and even with the most sympathetic Bench the innocent Defendant can expect to be out of pocket following their acquittal.
A successful defendant is likely to be reimbursed at Legal Aid rates that crudely speaking range between £50 to £70 per hour depending on whether the case was in the Magistrates Court. Solicitors charging rates are likely to be upwards of three times this amount. On that basis the acquitted defendant is likely to have to pay roughly two thirds of his defence costs in the Magistrates Court and full costs of his defence in the Crown Court.
Are there any exceptions to these provisions? Well yes, there has always been the ability to enhance hourly Legal Aid rates – but only in exceptional circumstances. The provisions include exceptional competence, skill or expertise, exceptional dispatch, or exceptional circumstances or complexity. Unfortunately a case involving custody for a Defendant, loss of livelihood or family would not in itself make it exceptional notwithstanding the fact that it may well be the most traumatic and exceptional event in a defendant’s life.
On the whole, these provisions make for grim reading for the innocent defendant who is not entitled to Legal Aid and who has been acquitted particularly if the cost of his or her defence has run into several thousands of pounds.