Jim Devine claims jobless status allows him to get legal aid

JIM DEVINE today defended his decision to claim legal aid to fight criminal charges over fiddling his expenses – because he is out of work.

The 57-year-old, barred by Labour from standing for re-election as Livingston MP because of his expenses claims, said he was entitled to help from the state in his upcoming criminal trial because he is now unemployed.

All Members of Parliament ceased to be MPs on Monday, when parliament was formally dissolved ahead of the general election on 6 May.

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There was an outcry after court officials announced on Monday that Mr Devine and two fellow Labour MPs Elliot Morley and David Chaytor, also charged over their expenses, had been granted legal aid to fund their defence.

But Mr Devine said: "I have a legal bill for just over 14,000. As of Monday I have been unemployed and after being means testing I am entitled to legal aid.

"I have also already paid 4,000 so far, meaning my legal costs are close to 20,000 so nothing is free for me."

MPs normally receive a "resettlement grant" of up to 100 per cent of their 64,766 salary when they leave the Commons in place of a redundancy payment – the exact amount is determined by their age and length of service – but the grants for Mr Devine and two other Labour MPs charged over their expenses have been frozen pending the outcome of their trial. Mr Devine will also eventually be entitled to a pension.

The revelation that Mr Devine is to receive legal aid has left a bitter taste in the mouth of some Livingston constituents.

Charlie Tait, 63, a retired council worker from the town, said:

"If MPs were a product you bought from a shop you would return them as not fit for use."

The SNP challenged Mr Devine and his two colleagues to refuse the legal aid they have been granted.

And Prime Minister Gordon Brown said he thought most of the money would have to be paid back because of a change in the law.

But the Law Society said it was a principle of the legal system that anyone charged with a criminal offence before the Crown Court was entitled to legal representation.

Chief executive Desmond Hudson said:

"The Government has recently introduced a means test for such cases to ensure that those who can afford to contribute to the costs of their representation are asked to do so.

"It would be very worrying if a fellow citizen charged with serious criminal matters could not be properly represented in court. Stigmatising the legal aid system is disappointing and unhelpful."

LIB DEMS UNVEIL MANIFESTO 'YOU CAN TRUST'

LIBERAL Democrat leader Nick Clegg today unveiled his party's policy package for the election, describing it as "a manifesto you can trust".

The Lib Dems promise a shake-up of the tax system to take 3.6 million low earners and pensioners out of income tax altogether and put 700 back in the pockets of millions more.

They said they would also break up the banks and get them lending again, create green growth and jobs that last by investing in infrastructure, change the voting system and create an elected House of Lords and protect civil liberties with a Freedom Bill.

Mr Clegg said 65 years of Labour and Conservative government had taught people to expect little from politics. "Don't settle for low politics and broken promises, " he said.