United Kingdom

UK is named the legal aid capital of Europe

Britain's spending on legal aid tops nearly every other country in Europe, an official study has found.

England and Wales’s spending was the third highest out of nearly 50 countries analysed, and funded the second-highest number of legal aid cases each year.

The Council of Europe study torpedoes claims by lawyers in this country that legal aid is underfunded. The council even said other European countries should aim to emulate Britain’s massive investment.

In August, the Daily Mail revealed the killers of PC Andrew Harper received more than £465,000 in legal aid. The astonishing sum was paid to solicitors and barristers defending ringleader Henry Long, 19, and accomplices Albert Bowers and Jessie Cole, both 18 – who dragged the constable to his death behind a car.

Undated handout file photo issued by Thames Valley Police of Henry Long, one of the killers of Pc Andrew Harper, who with his accomplices racked up a legal aid bill of £465,000

Previously unissued photo dated 19 September 2019 of Albert Bowers (left) and Jessie Cole (centre) leaving Reading Magistrates Court following an appearance in relation to the death of PC Andrew Harper

Speedboat killer Jack Shepherd – who caused the death of 24-year-old Charlotte Brown in 2015 – got £93,000 in legal aid, despite skipping his trial and going on the run. 

Miss Brown’s father Graham said last night: ‘I don’t think the taxpayer realises how generous the system is, and this report goes some way to highlight that.’

Conservative MP Tom Hunt said: ‘The legal profession... need to be careful because they are beginning to turn the phrase “legal aid” into something with negative connotations for the public.’

Yesterday’s report by the European Commission for the Efficiency of Justice looked at the legal systems in 45 Council of Europe states, plus Israel, Morocco and Kazakhstan.

Jasa Vrabec, of the CEPEJ, said of the UK’s figures: ‘This is a very good thing for access to justice to have high figures of the budget devoted to legal aid.

‘It shows the importance of justice within a judicial system and I would really like other European countries to have a higher percentage of GDP devoted to legal aid.’ 

Northern Ireland’s spending was the highest, with just over 48 euros (£43) per inhabitant.

Speedboat killer Jack Shepherd – who caused the death of 24-year-old Charlotte Brown in 2015 – got £93,000 in legal aid, despite skipping his trial and going on the run

Sweden was next with 35.6 euros, according to the analysis based on figures from 2018, then England and Wales with 31.3 (£28). The report found that Germany spent just 7.8 euros and France 7.16. The UK also performed strongly when measured by the number of legal aid cases which are funded. Across the country 1,538,453 cases were paid for by the taxpayer in 2018, second only to Spain with just under 1.9 million.

Last year legal aid spending in England and Wales ran to £1.5 billion, but the Bar Council, which represents barristers, has suggested the figure be increased to £2.48 billion.

But Amanda Pinto QC, chairman of the Bar Council, said: ‘Comparing England and Wales’ spending on legal aid with that of other countries is like comparing apples with oranges.’

 The UK performs poorly on the number of women in the judiciary, the CEPEJ survey found. It said women made up less than 40 per cent of judges in the UK, behind countries such as Hungary, Latvia, Serbia and Romania.

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