UK Politics

Ex-MPs ordered to repay legal costs of expenses cases

Former MPs David Chaytor, Elliot Morley and Eric Illsley have been told to repay thousands of pounds in legal costs after their convictions for fraudulently claiming expenses.

They were told by a judge at Southwark Crown Court to pay, between them, prosecution costs totalling £58,530 and to repay legal aid costs of £66,950.

They were among six parliamentarians jailed for expenses fraud.

But ex-MP Jim Devine will not be asked to repay anything as he is bankrupt.

Chaytor, Morley and Illsley received prison sentences of 18 months, 16 months and 12 months respectively for claiming parliamentary expenses they were not entitled to.

All three have since been released from jail and are serving the rest of their sentences under licence.

'Significant amount'

The three men all pleaded guilty to fraud before their cases went to trial. However, they now face large legal bills for the costs of the prosecutions brought against them and for the publicly funded legal aid they received.

Morley has been asked to repay the largest amount, £56,181 in total. Chaytor has been asked to repay £46,212 while Illsley faces a claim for £23,087.

The taxpayer will not recover the full costs of the legal aid awarded for Morley and Chaytor's defence.

Justice Saunders ruled they should not have to pay for their ultimately unsuccessful legal challenge to establish whether they were exempt from prosecution in a criminal court under Parliamentary privilege, which was taken to the Court of Appeal and Supreme Court.

However, both men will have to pay the cost of their Crown Court hearings.

In his ruling, Justice Saunders stated: "At a time when there is concern at the size of legal aid expenditure, there is no reason in principle why the taxpayer should pay for the legal representation of people who can afford to pay for themselves."

In a statement, the Legal Services Commission - the body responsible for overseeing the legal aid system in England and Wales - said that "those who can afford to pay towards their defence costs should pay".

"It is worth remembering that by bringing these proceedings we have ensured that a significant amount of the legal aid costs will be paid for by these individuals," the organisation's chief executive Owen Mapley said.

Illsley has voluntarily agreed to repay his legal aid costs, which were lower as he admitted his guilt earlier on and did not launch a challenge on the grounds of parliamentary privilege.

Justice Saunders said the case of Devine, convicted for a year for expenses fraud, was "different".

"He is bankrupt. It seems unlikely that he will have anything left by the time all his debts are paid off."

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