Legal Aid ensures that people are able to secure the services of a criminal lawyer even if they could ordinarily not afford to do so. This system is designed to allow justice to be done regardless of the contents of your bank account.
Criminal justice for those without the means to pay
For an optimum outcome in a criminal law case, the services of a criminal lawyer are indispensible. The Criminal Justice System can be a confusing and daunting process and, without legal help and advice from a specialist, you could find your situation worsen beyond repair.
However, the rates charged by criminal lawyers put them beyond many people. Fortunately the system provides Legal Aid to those in difficult financial situations, enabling them to employ criminal lawyers to ensure they receive the justice the law entitles them to.
Criminal legal aid can offer:
- advice and assistance from a solicitor on criminal matters
- free legal advice from a solicitor at the police station during questioning
- the cost of a solicitor preparing a case and initial representation for certain proceedings at a magistrates’ or Crown court
- full legal representation for defence in criminal cases at all court levels
- a duty solicitor to provide free legal advice and representation at magistrates’ court.
Anyone can apply for Legal Aid but whether you will receive it or not depends on the following factors:
- the type of legal problem you have;
- your income (how much you earn) and how much capital (money, property, belongings) you have;
- whether there is a reasonable chance of winning your case and whether it is worth the time and money needed to win.
To apply for Legal Aid, you must fill in an ‘Application for Legal Aid in Criminal Proceedings’ which can be provided by your solicitor. When visiting your solicitor to make your application, make sure to take evidence of income with you, if you can.
For example, if you're:
- on income or job seeking benefits
take your national insurance number or letter confirming your benefits
take your latest pay slip
take your latest full self-assessment tax return form or latest set of accounts.
To receive Legal Aid you must also pass the Interests of Justice test .This will determine whether you will be granted Legal Aid and the Court will consider whether the following issues apply to your case:
- It is likely that you will lose your liberty.
- You have been given a Sentence that has been suspended or is non-custodial. If you break this, the Court may be able to deal with you for the original offence.
- It is likely that you will lose your livelihood.
- It is likely that you will suffer serious damage to your reputation.
- A substantial question of law may be involved.
- You may not be able to understand the Court proceedings or present your own case.
- You may need witnesses to be traced or interviewed on your behalf.
- The proceedings may involve expert cross-examination of a Prosecution Witness.
- It is in the interests of another person that you are represented.
- Any other reasons.
As well as the IoJ test you will also have to pass a means test in the Magistrates Court before being granted Legal Aid. This will establish whether you are financially eligible for free legal representation.
- The Initial Means Test assesses the applicant’s income and how this is spread between any partners and children.
- A Full Means Test is carried out if, through the initial Means Test, the applicant’s suggested income is calculated to be more than £12,475.00 and less than £22,325.00. It works out an Applicant’s disposable income after deducting tax, maintenance and other annual costs from the gross annual income.
- In general terms, if you earn more than £21,000.00 you may not qualify for Legal Aid at all unless you can show “exceptional hardship”.
- The Complex Means Test is for those who have complex financial circumstances.
- Hardship Reviews can be carried out if an applicant can show that they are genuinely unable to fund their own representation.
Get legal help now
If you need legal advice on any of the topics covered on this page, you should try our Instant Law Line service. This service, provided by DAS, can give you access to legal advice over the phone from a qualified legal adviser for a low price.