Contact Which Criminal Lawyer Contact page for Which Criminal Lawyer

Legal Aid – Criminal Cases – Do you qualify?

Police Station Representation

There is a national scheme in place throughout England and Wales that ensures all persons arrested for an offence are entitled to free legal advice at the police station.

You can choose your own criminal solicitor, or if you do not know one, you can ask to be represented by the Duty Solicitor. A Duty Solicitor is a criminal law solicitor that has been specifically trained for this task. There is a national rota scheme and the duty solicitors cover their local police station on a regular basis.

The national scheme makes a single payment to cover a person’s representation at the police station, which is a fixed fee and does not change whether there is one visit or ten visits before the case is either dropped or charged. For this reason, a change of solicitor after arrest and before charge is awkward as the first solicitor will charge the government for the representation and the second solicitor will have to either charge you privately or work without payment.

Magistrates Court

Following arrest and interview, if the police decide to progress further, they will charge the person with the crime committed. At this point the police station representation ends and matters move to the Magistrates Court. Here a decision is made about the complexity of the case and whether it can be tried in the Magistrates Court, or whether it needs to proceed higher and be tried in the Crown Court.

Legal Aid Test
Immediately upon charge, application for legal aid should be made, to ensure you have representation at the earliest point.

Legal Aid is means tested. You will not have to pay if you are below 18, or on specific benefits. (income support, income based job seekers allowance, guaranteed state pension credit, income related employment and support allowance).

If you are in work, you need to be assessed under the “in” or “out” test.

If a clients annual household income, minus living costs and family circumstances is £12,475 or less: pass initial means test and get legal aid.

If a clients annual household income, minus living costs and family circumstances is £22,325 or more: fail initial means test and do not get legal aid.

If a clients annual household income, minus living costs and family circumstances is between £12,475 and £22,324: disposable income test applies.

If annual disposable income is £3,398 or less: pass means test and get legal aid.

If annual disposable income is more than £3,398: fail means test and do not get legal aid.

Evidence of income is required for all employed and self-employed clients. Legal Aid in the Magistrates Court will be extended to the Crown Court is required.

Crown Court

Some cases are “sent” from the Magistrates Court to the Crown Court. Generally this is more serious cases. If you have received legal aid in the Magistrates Court, you are covered in the Crown Court also. If you have failed to access legal aid in the Magistrates Court, because your earnings are too high, you can now apply again for legal aid in the Crown Court. A different test applies.

Legal Aid Test
If annual disposable income is £3,398 or less: (£283.17 a month or less) pass means test and get legal aid.

If annual disposable income is more than £3,398: pass means test and get legal aid, however, an income contribution towards your defence costs is required.

If found not guilty, the contribution is returned to you, with interest.

If found or plead guilty, clients will have to pay defence costs from capital if
· They have £30,000 or more of assets, e.g. savings, equity in property, shares or Premium Bonds.
· Their defence costs haven’t already been covered by income contributions.

It is estimated that around 1 in 4 clients whose cases go to the Crown Court will have to pay some or all of their defence costs, from either their income, capital or both.

Check with your criminal solicitor, it may be that the costs of instructing him privately are less that the contributions you need to make to the Crown. If that is the case he will expect payment in advance and will advise you if proceedings are going to exceed the initial estimate.

How much do clients pay?

If a clients disposable income exceeds £3,398 per annum or £283.17 per month, he will be asked to pay 90% of his disposable income for 5 months, from the time the case reaches the Crown Court, or until it ends, whichever is sooner.

Failure to make all 5 payments will incur a fine of an additional payment.

Minimum Contribution

The minimum contribution is £254 per month, which equates to an annual disposable income of £3399.

Maximum Contribution

The maximum contribution can reach £185,806. See table.

Legal Aid – Criminal Cases – Do you qualify?

When are contributions due?

Within 28 days of the case being posted to the Crown Court, a contribution notice or Order detailing the amount due will be posted.

Evidence of Income

Evidence of income is necessary, either a letter confirming benefits, payslips for employees or tax returns / annual accounts for self employed. Failure to provide evidence of earnings may result in a high contribution of £900 or 100% of your monthly disposable income being set.

What if I can’t afford to pay?

If you believe the contributions are too high, you can appeal against them. If your circumstances change after the contributions are set, e.g. you lose your employment, you can ask to have the contributions recalculated. Your solicitor will assist you in this matter.

What happens if I don’t pay?

The Legal Services Commission may take action against you, such as charge interest, take part of your earnings, or send a baliff to your home address. This will add more costs to the system, which you will have to pay. Speak to your solicitor if you have any problems with payment and he will offer advice where possible.

Would it be cheaper to pay a solicitor directly?

Check with your criminal solicitor, it may be that the costs of instructing him privately are less that the contributions you need to make to the Crown. If that is the case he will expect payment in advance and will advise you if proceedings are going to exceed the initial estimate.

Copyright © 2017 Which Criminal Lawyer