LEGAL AID EXPLAINED
If you are going to be interviewed by the police under caution or have been arrested you are always entitled to FREE legal advice and representation. You will not incur any costs for this legal representation. There are certain circumstances, for example where you are interviewed about a minor offence, where this right will be limited to advice over the telephone.
Increasingly the police will release you from the police station to make further inquiries before a decision is made on whether to proceed with a case against you. You will usually be placed on pre-charge unconditional bail whilst these inquiries take place.
During this time any work you need us to do won't be covered by the police station advice and assistance scheme. There are however, other ways that you may be eligible to have publicly funded legal advice and assistance. The availability of this particular type of legal representation depends on your financial position.
To get a representation order (what used to be called Legal Aid) an application has to be made to the court. We can help you with this application.
The application is subject to two tests.
The first test is called the "interests of justice". Basically a representation order will only be granted if the court consider your case "serious enough" for you to need full legal representation.
Generally, if you are charged with a non-imprisonable offence your case will not pass this first test. Such offences include driving document offences, minor Public Order Act offences and being Drunk and Disorderly. However, even if you are charged with one of these types of offences there is an exception to every rule so you should check with us to see whether your case is sufficiently complex to justify making an application.
If you are charged with an "indictable only" offence (an offence that can only be heard in the Crown Court) your case will always satisfy this first test.
There are many many offences which clearly fall somewhere in between these two categories, we will be happy to advise you on an individual basis whether or not you are likely to be successful in passing this first test.
The second test is a means test. Legal Aid will not be granted if you are earning too much money (according to the Legal Services Commission.)
If you are in receipt of income based JSA, income support or a guaranteed pension then you will automatically be entitled financially to legal aid. All you will need to provideon the application is your (and your partner's) National Insurance Number.
If you are in receipt of other benefits then you will not automatically be entitled to legal aid. You will have to provide the court with documentary evidence of this benefit.
If you (and / or your partner) receive an income other than benefits then your application will be subject to a full means inquiry by the court to see if you are financially eligible for legal aid. If your income per year is above about £21,000 you will not be financially eligible for legal aid at the Magistrates Court.
If you are single and your gross income per year is below £11,590 you will be financially entitled to legal aid in the Magistrates Court.
If your gross income is between £11,590 and £20,750 then whether you are financially eligible for legal aid will depend on your disposable income.
In all cases where you are in receipt of an income you will have to provide documentary proof of that income. If you are employed this will be wage slip(s) for the last 3 months. If you are self-employed then you are required to provide the court with a copy of your tax return and/or annual accounts.
In circumstances where you or your partner are earning an income the new regulations and financial allowances are complex. We would be happy to discuss your eligibilty and what documents you will need to provide to the court. Feel free to contact us for more information.
If you are cohabiting or married the means test will include both you are your partner's income and the form(s) will have to be signed by both of you.
There is no contribution system in with Magistrates Court legal aid, you are either financially eligible and you will receive a full representation order or you will not. If you are not eligible for legal aid then we will be happy to discuss our private client rates for representing you.
If your application for legal aid is refused you can appeal the decision. You would also be able to re-apply if your circumstances were to change after an unsuccessful application. If you are convicted you may be required to pay a contribution to the prosecution costs of the case.
If your case goes to the Crown Court for Trial you will automatically qualify for legally aid representation once you have completed an application form. After you have been means tested, you may have to pay towards the cost of your defence. This contribution could be from your income whilst the case is ongoing and/or from your capital, if you are convicted.
You will be asked to provide evidence of your income and assets. If you do not your payments could be increased which would result in you paying more towards your defence costs. If you do not tell the truth on your legal aid application you could also be prosecuted.
You will not have to pay towards the costs of your case is you are under 18 when you make your application or if you receive any of the following benefits: income support, income-based jobseekers allowance, guaranteed state pension credit or income related employment and support allowance.
You may have to pay towards the costs if your monthly disposible income is above a certain level. If this is the case, you will receive a Contribution Order from the court and you will have to make payments as required under the order. The first payment will be due within 28 days of your case being committed, sent or transferred to the Crown Court.
You must tell the court about any changes to your financial circumstances during your case because a change may affect the amount you have to pay towards your defence costs. If you do not think you can afford to pay, or you think a mistake has been made, you can ask for a review of the amount that the court has told you to pay. If you do this you will have to provide additional evidence of your financial position.
At the end of the case if you are found not guilty, any payments you have made will be refunded to you with interest. If you paid late or not at all and action was take against you, the cost of this action will be deducted from the refund.
If you are found guilty, you may have to pay towards your defence costs from any capital assests you have. This would only apply if A. you have £30,000 or more assests for example, savings, equity in property, shares or premium bonds and B. any payments you have already made have not covered your total defence costs. You will be told at the end of your case if you have to make a payment from capital.
If you appear in the Magistrates Court but are not eligible for a full representation order then you may be able to receive advice and assistance from the Duty Solicitor at court that day. This type of representation is limited to one hearing.
Please note the the Duty Solicitor will not be able to assist you if you are facing non-imprisonable offences.