'Cover-up' over legal aid bill for Lawrence killers: Officials refuse to confirm if pair spent 1m of taxpayers' cashMurderers Gary Dobson, 37, and David Norris, 36, are believed to have spent the sum on defence costsBut Legal Services Commission has blocked a request for information about exactly how much taxpayers’ money they usedThe pair were found guilty of the 1993 murder of Stephen Lawrence in January 2012
01:12 GMT, 27 December 2012
The Stephen Lawrence case was engulfed in a secrecy row last night after court officials refused to reveal how much legal aid his killers claimed.
Gary Dobson, 37, and David Norris, 36, are believed to have spent up to 1million of public money on defence costs before and during their murder trial.
But the Legal Services Commission has blocked a request for information about how much taxpayers’ money they used.
It argues that publication of the amount could ‘compromise the litigation’ – meaning the pair would be unable to receive a fair trial in the unlikely event that an appeal results in a retrial.
Guilty of murder: Gary Dobson (left) and David Norris (right) are believed to have spent up to 1million of public money on defence costs
This is despite the fact the men have already been convicted of the teenager’s murder – more than a decade after both Dobson and Norris were among five men named by the Daily Mail in 1997 as Stephen’s killers.
Critics say the ruling is further evidence of Britain’s secrecy culture, following controversy over secret courts and inquests, restricted access to family courts and the police clamp-down on how much information they release in the post-Leveson era.
After a six-week trial, an Old Bailey jury ruled in January that Dobson and Norris were guilty of the race-hate murder of Stephen Lawrence, 18, in Eltham, south-east London in April 1993
After a six-week trial, an Old Bailey jury ruled in January that Dobson and Norris were guilty of the race-hate murder of Stephen, 18, in Eltham, south-east London in April 1993.
They were jailed for life.
The pair immediately appealed against their convictions, saying the trial had been unfair.
But in August their written applications were thrown out by a single Appeal Court judge, who ruled there were no grounds to grant them leave to appeal.
Dobson and Norris, part of a gang of five racists who stabbed Stephen to death, have since launched a new appeal against their convictions.
A decision on whether they will be granted leave to appeal is not expected for several months.
Pending this, the Mail last month submitted a Freedom of Information request to the Legal Services Commission, asking for details of the amount of legal aid claimed by Norris and Dobson at their murder trial.
Both men had large legal teams, led by experienced QCs. Before the trial, Dobson – who was prosecuted under new double jeopardy laws – tried to get the charge thrown out at a hearing at the Royal Courts of Justice.
After considering the Mail’s FoI request for three weeks, a spokesman for the LSC said: ‘Since receiving your request, it has been confirmed to the LSC that both David Norris and Gary Dobson have renewed their application for leave to appeal to the Court of Appeal against their convictions.
‘As this case remains on-going it is considered that the disclosure of the costs associated with the case to date would be likely to compromise the litigation, if the appeal resulted in a retrial before a jury.
The Mail on January 4, 2012 – the day after the killers were jailed
This is because it could influence the decision of a jury given the high-profile nature of the case and the Press attention it has generated, thus potentially prejudicing the outcome of the case.’
Officials are to carry out an internal review of the decision after the Mail appealed against the LSC’s ruling.
In a letter of complaint, solicitors Reynolds Porter Chamberlain pointed out that no new trial is pending for Dobson and Norris. It said: ‘Legal aid is funded by the British taxpayer.
There is a clear public interest in the disclosure of information pertaining to how much legal aid was awarded to convicted criminals which far outweighs the hypothetical and remote chance of prejudice you have identified.’
In January, Dobson was ordered to serve a minimum of 15 years and two months, while Norris was given a minimum of 14 years and three months.