Tory MP regrets voting to cut legal aid after spending life savings defending himself in court
'It's completely wrong'
Tory MP Nigel Evans spent his life savings defending himself in court, after voting to reduce legal aid spending by 40 per cent, and is now calling for a reversal of the decision.
He said he would now vote against the cuts brought in by the Conservative/Lib Dem coalition, after false accusations of rape and sexual assault over a 10-year period forced him to spend £130,000 in legal fees.
The former deputy speaker was fighting charges he raped a university student and sexually assaulted six men.
Evans called for spending to return to pre-2012 levels.
Barrister and chair of the Commons justice committee, Tory Bob Neill, recently said excessive cuts may have transferred costs onto other government departments.
The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (Laspo) was passed by parliament in 2012 and supported by Evans at the time. Since, Evans said that was a mistake and the justice system is in need of funding.
He told the Guardian: "If I had my time again I would stand up and argue against the implementation of Laspo.
"It’s wrong, completely wrong, to remove people’s right to have expert legal representation, and now I’ve gone through it I can see that clearly. We’re definitely talking about justice being denied as a result of Laspo.
"My experience of being falsely accused, and losing my life savings to defend myself proving that, was a road to Damascus moment for me. I’m a changed person now, in terms of Laspo and sympathy for all those who now have to go through the legal system without expert help, support and advice.
"I’m not just talking about those accused in the criminal courts like me, but everyone affected by Laspo. Parents going through the family courts, tenants fighting landlords, patients fighting hospitals and so on. Laspo is clearly not working. It needs to be overhauled.
"Laspo financially punishes innocent people for the crime of being wrongly accused.
"You have no choice, when you’re accused of a crime and risk going to prison and losing everything, than to pay whatever you can to defend yourself.
"I was fortunate that I had my grandfather’s business in Swansea that I could sell and a house that I could remortgage. But if you don’t have life savings that you can drain, it makes a mockery of the whole idea of justice.
"Thanks to Laspo, you can be taken to court through no fault of your own and even when you walk away without a stain on your character, your bank account is completely drained. They call it the 'innocent tax' but what it is is innocent people subsidising the judiciary … We should go back to the pre-Laspo rules.
"People don’t see people like me as victims, and there’s a sense that it could not happen to them.
"That’s what I thought too, but it’s completely wrong. There’s nothing easier than someone falsely accusing you of a crime. Maybe only a relatively small number of people are affected, but part of the problem is that there’s a randomness to being falsely accused, it could literally happen to everyone.
"I was lucky, in that I had life savings to lose, but for those who don’t, Laspo can bring them to the point of suicide.”