Criminals who unfairly use legal aid to fund their defence will have their cars seized in a bid to ease the cost on the taxpayer.
The Crown Court legal aid bill is more than £700 million a year but only 20 per cent of the amount which should be repaid is currently recovered.
The government has introduced Motor Vehicle Orders which can be imposed on those convicted of a criminal offence after using legal aid to fund their defence.
The measures will allow the Legal Aid Agency to apply to clamp any vehicles identified as belonging to the defendant. After conviction, the agency can go back to court for permission to sell the car and use the money to settle unpaid legal aid costs.
Justice Minister Chris Grayling said: “Convicted criminals have cheated innocent taxpayers for too long by dodging requirements to contribute to the legal costs of their defence.
“I am determined that where they can pay, they will pay. Legal aid is not free – it is taxpayers’ money.
“We must bring down the cost of legal aid and our starting point has to be that law-abiding citizens don’t foot the bill when those concerned could pay themselves.
“With £34m owed to taxpayers from the last three years alone, it’s time to get tough. I am clear – you can’t avoid paying your legal aid bill and expect to keep a fancy car on the driveway.”
Matthew Sinclair, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, said: “The bill for legal aid has rocketed in recent years, so those who have taken it who didn’t qualify for it must pay up or pay the price. Then taxpayers can be reassured that help is being given only to those who really do require it.”