In the UK, if you are accused of financial wrong doing or fraud (and I think for that matter any criminal matter) and the case goes to court, all of your assets – your house, your bank accounts, your dealings etc are seized by the Crown.
If you have no assets you are, by right, assigned legal representation by the Crown funded by a system known as Legal Aid.
This is regardless of whether you have a billion quid in property and shares or 50p and a packet of cigarette papers.
It is a right afforded to all ever since the Legal Aid and Advice Act of 1949.
If you lose your case, your assets become Crown property and the proceeds of your assets go towards paying your legal costs and any fine or financial penalty you receive.
If you win your case, the prosecuting body – ie the Crown Prosecution Service (or in the case of civil matters – the Plaintiff) pay the court costs.
The only type of law where legal aid is not afforded to the accused is in cases of defamation or libel.
Such it is, such it has been. Hopefully, in case I get wrongly accused of financial wrongdoing at some point in my life, it will remain that way.
Now. It has come to my attention that a number of MPs have been accused of financial wrong doing in a matter that is going to court at present.
It seems on the back of this, there is currently a really terrible case of “bad journalism” going on. Twatter is alight with people saying “Onoes! This is disgusting! People like that should pay themselves” without a regard for how the legal aid system actually works and I’m certain that the low quality press and their columnists will be making similar noises. Worse, the leader of the Conservative party seems oblivious to this point and I’m sure if it was he who was being prosecuted with no funds for him to obtain legal council, he would be the first to cry “Oh no! Woe is me!”
Remember, law is there to protect you. The legal system in the UK, while often flawed and misapplied, is there to protect the key facet in all of British sovereign law. Something which the powers that be seem really keen to remove, something which the media would like to see removed. That facet is in the United Kingdom – you are innocent until proven guilty by a court of law.
So even if you see Billy Blogs pinching a bag of crisps from the off licence and your convinced he stole the crisps, unless a court of law, presided over by a judge and jury or magistrate, finds Billy Blogs guilty he is innocent. Regardless of what you say.
This is something which people, often fuelled by media and moral panic, forget. They also forget that the easiest way to remove ancient rights and freedoms is to whip up such a fuss about a technicality so that ancient freedoms are swept away nought but the flourish of a pen. How many times have we, and I include myself in this, heard about people going to court and we say “They did it, they must have” when we know nothing about the situation behind the case or the evidence. This is often more the case when the death of a child is part of the matter.
We point fingers. The media guides our hands. Trials go to court and people do get locked away because of prejudicial matters.
Think Colin Stagg. Yeah I was one who went “He bloody must have done it” naively fuelled the media who also said “He bloody must have done it” and yep….he went down. Convicted by a jury. Then…he gets acquitted. Absolved of all wrong. How foolish I felt when I found out that actually, no…he hadn’t done it.
So to bring our legal lesson back onto track – two points
- in the UK you are innocent until proven guilty by a court of law
- if you have no assets, either because they have been seized by the Crown as a bond (including your duck house) just in case you do a runner or because you genuinely do only have 50p (and a packet of green Rizlas) to your name – You are afforded, as is your right, to legal counsel funded by the Legal Aid system.
Such is the law in the UK. Daft it may be. But think…if it was you…and you were innocent….and you had no money…because your government had seized it all…or maybe you only had 50p and a packet of green Rizlas. Wouldn’t you be a teeny bit…well…miffed if you were not allowed someone to give you legal guidance on the matter at hand purely because you had no means to pay for it?
I know I would.
So bear that in mind as you cast your stones and eggs and laugh and point at the ignorant fools, who are having their basic rights wilfully eroded away because they didn’t know they actually had them in the first place…