Legal aid could feel the full force

Roger Pearson looks at a case which may affect legal aid eligibility for enforcement proceedings

Legal Aid policies for the funding of challenges to enforcement proceedings will come under the High Court spotlight early next year.

Upper class fraudster Darius Guppy has won leave to seek judicial review of refusal of legal aid for him to contest enforcement proceedings which threaten to keep him in prison for a further three years. The proceedings look set to provide a signpost ruling with serious implications in respect of legal aid eligibility.

Guppy, jailed for five years in 1993 for defrauding insurers of u1.8 million in respect of a bogus gems raid, is due out of prison soon with remission for good conduct.

However, if he fails to meet a u227,000 compensation order made against him by the Court of Appeal in April last year when it quashed fines imposed on him at his trial, he faces three more years in prison.

He wishes to challenge enforcement proceedings against him at Redbridge Magistrates court in respect of non-payment of the compensation order. However, he had been refused legal aid for his challenge. But now Mr Justice Potts has ruled that he has an arguable case to seek judicial review of that refusal and has ordered that the case should come on as a matter of urgency.

If successful, the case could increase the scope for challenges to enforcement proceedings generally.

Philip Engleman, counsel for Guppy, says that currently most enforcement proceedings go through more or less 'on the nod' unless the person involved has personal funds to pay for legal representation.

If this challenge to the rules relating to provision of legal aid for such matters succeeds, however, then it could pave the way for grant of legal aid in a wide variety of enforcement proceedings, not just those relating to Guppy.

Guppy was jailed for his part in conspiracy to defraud, steal and commit false accounting.