National Audit Office criticises court clerks over legal aid means testing

COURT clerks are not doing enough to make legal aid applicants provide evidence of their earnings, according to the National Audit Office.

More than one third of applicants failed to submit documentary evidence on their means despite new rules introduced last year.

The Comptroller and Auditor General Sir John Bourn has refused to grant the Lord Chancellor's Department (LCD) an audit certificate for the fourth year running because of fears that regulations are still not being met.

The rules on means assessment were reformed in September 1993 giving courts powers to insist on documentary evidence.

Auditors claim that the amount of information on income has increased but remains patchy and unsatisfactory.

“Where documentation was supplied, it did not always support the relevant figures in the statement of means,” the auditors claim.

Laurie Cramp, honorary secretary of the Justices' Clerks Society, comments: “It is not the easiest of procedures to comply with, bearing in mind that some applicants are dilatory in the way in which they present or fail to present the information.”

Cramp adds that other criticisms of clerks made in the report have been addressed in guidance sent out last summer.