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Can I have legal aid

Question:

Do I have to pay my legal costs if I am arrested?

Answer:

If you are arrested you have the right to free legal advice from the duty solicitor. There is no means testing for this, which means that you are entitled to have this advice regardless of your financial situation. When you are arrested you will be asked by the police whether you want to speak to a solicitor. If you say no, then you will not have the benefit of legal advice. If you say yes, the police will put a call through to the Defence Solicitor Call Centre and the solicitor who is ‘on call’ for that area will come to the police station. If you already have a solicitor, or wish to use a particular solicitor, they will contact this person on your behalf. As long as your solicitor has a contract with the Legal Services Commission, you will not have to pay for this advice. Most people who are arrested have the right to consult a lawyer before their interview, but those who are charged with certain very serious offences may not have this right until later on.

Before You Are Charged

If you are on bail, or are being investigated for a criminal offence, you may be entitled to Advice and Assistance from a solicitor. This includes letters and telephone calls, general advice and a barrister’s opinion. People who are on Income Support, Jobseeker’s allowance, or guaranteed Pension Credit will be automatically entitled to Advice and Assistance. Other people may also be entitled to this type of legal aid, but it depends on their financial circumstances.

At The Magistrates’ Court

If you are due to appear before a criminal court because you have been charged with an offence, you may be entitled to obtain legal advice and representation by way of a ‘Representation Order.’ People who are charged with minor offences, such as speeding, will not be entitled to this kind of legal aid. This is because the test is whether or not it would be in the ‘interests of justice’ to provide you with state-funded legal aid.

Those who are entitled to a representation order as of right are those in receipt of Job-Seeker’s Allowance, Income Support, guaranteed Pension Credit and anyone under the age of eighteen. If you do not receive any of these benefits, whether you get legal aid depends on your financial circumstances and the number of dependants you have.

Criteria affecting are:

  • How much you earn and how much money you have in assets such as your home or other property. You will normally not be eligible for legal aid if you have over £8,000 in assets, or earned over £2,435 as your gross income (before tax) last month.
  • What type of case you are taking to court.

You can use an online legal aid calculator to work out how much money you might get if you applied for help. The legal aid calculator is available at: www.communitylegaladvice.org.uk/en/legalaid/calculator.jsp.

Legal aid will usually only pay for:

  • The cost of the solicitor who will represent you in court.
  • Any initial help and advice you have been given about your case.

At the Crown Court

As with the magistrates court, it must be in the interests of justice that you are legally represented and therefore entitled to legal aid. If you are convicted of an offence in the crown court, you may have to pay some of the costs depending on how much you earn and how much money you have by way of savings and other capital.

The New Rules

As of June 2010, legal aid in the crown court became means tested. This means that if you have more than £283 of disposable income each month you will have to make some contributions towards the cost of your legal representation. These payments will have to be made in five instalments. If you are late paying one of the instalments, you will have to pay an extra instalment.

Further, if you are found guilty and you have savings or other capital that total more than £30,000, you may have to use some of this money to pay a contribution towards your legal costs. In the event that you are acquitted, either because you are found not guilty or the case is dropped against you, the contributions you have made will be refunded to you.

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