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The Implications of Changes to Defence Costs Orders (DCOs)

Changes to Defence Costs Orders (DCOs) are set to be implemented by the Government in just over 2 weeks time which could have great implications for people and companies seeking expert legal representation before the criminal courts.

The current position is if you are acquitted by a court and you have paid privately for your defence, then you are entitled to a DCO which would refund you any reasonable costs that you have incurred.

From October however, the following changes will come into force:

Defendants in the Magistrates Court will only be able to recover a DCO at legal aid rates which as a rough guide equate to approximately 25% to 33%  - meaning that somebody who is acquitted will now have to pay the difference to have a fair trial against the CPS who will still be funded by the state.

Any company or firm will have to pay for their defence and not be entitled to recover any costs even if they win the case.

Defendants in the Crown Court will now be ‘forced’ to choose between accepting Legal Aid with contributions of up to a maximum of £900 per month or pay  privately in the knowledge that even if they are acquitted they will not receive any money back.

At present anybody on benefits or with an annual income of less than £12,475 will pass the ‘means’ test. If your income falls between £12,475 to £22,375 you may still get Legal Aid but will have to pay a contribution if your case is dealt with in the Crown Court.  Anybody earning more than this will not be assisted in the Magistrates’ Court and be subject to a contribution in the Crown Court also.

Even if you are eligible on ‘means’ you still have to pass a ‘merits’ test and people often require help and assistance in completing an application form to ask the court to grant them Legal Aid.  Rejections of Legal Aid for this reason are on the increase. Once refused legal aid you must pay privately or represent your own interests in court.

In reality this could potentially hit the so called ‘middle’ classes the most.  Those that do not earn a great deal but go out to work every day to provide for themselves and their family.  Anybody could be the subject of a false allegation but not everybody will be able to afford their defence which will inevitably lead to people pleading guilty as “its cheaper to do so”” and wrongful convictions and undoing centuries of working towards equality in representation before the courts.