asked Her Majesty's Government:
How many cases involving the public interest in environmental law have had orders for no costs since the Aarhus Convention was ratified; and what has been the net change since 2000 in (a) the money spent on legal aid; (b) the average legal costs in court cases involving environmental public law; and (c) the income threshold for legal aid. [HL2393]
Information in relation to the number of orders for no costs and the average legal costs in environmental cases is not held centrally and could be obtained only at disproportionate cost. The amount spent on legal aid is not available, as the Legal Services Commission's information systems do not go down to this level of detail.
The net change in the gross income limit for civil legal aid since it was introduced in 2001 to the present is £4,200 per annum. From December 2001 until August 2002, the limit was £24,000 per annum and, from April 2006 to date, it has been £28,200. If the applicant has income in excess of the limit, funding is refused. If income is at or below the gross income limit, the Legal Services Commission assesses the applicant's disposable income to determine whether they are eligible for civil legal aid.
For criminal legal aid, a different system is in place. From 2 October 2006, where the proceedings are in the magistrates' court, the defendant must satisfy a new means test. An individual is financially eligible for a representation order if his gross annual income, adjusted to take account of any partner or children, is £11,590 or less, and ineligible if it is £20,740 or more. Those applicants whose adjusted income falls within the two thresholds are subject to a more detailed assessment of their disposable income in order to determine their financial eligibility under the new scheme. Legal aid applications for defendants appearing before the Crown Court are not currently means-tested.