Funding Your Case – Legal Aid
Legal Aid is your legal right to free legal representation and advice when faced with criminal proceedings. Although this service is deemed free, there can be certain limitations to the extent of the legal representation you can receive.
On many occasions these limitations can hinder the level of service you receive, leading to many of our clients wishing to pay privately for their legal issue.
This guide however is here to help you understand how Legal Aid works at every stage, whether it is at the Police Station, Magistrates’ Court or the Crown Court.
What is Legal Aid?
Legal Aid is a government funded scheme to allow those on low income to gain access to the justice system. As embedded in law by the Magna Carter, it is important that people have the right to be equal before the law, the right to counsel (legal advice and representation) and the right to a fair trial. However, Legal Aid has become a more complex system and is constantly under governmental review and austerity cut backs.
Legal Aid is administered by the Legal Aid Agency (LAA) and is subject to vigorous means testing for those that are self employed or live with a partner or spouse. There are certain ‘passported’ benefits that if you are in receipt of and can show evidence of, can lead you to be automatically entitled to Legal Aid funding.
A merits test on certain offences may also be needed, to justify why you should receive Legal Aid. This is formerly known as the Interests of Justice Test
Our solicitors and highly trained legal assistants at ABV will guide you through the Legal Aid process, ensuring that every effort is made to acquire Legal Aid funding for your legal issue if applicable. This is usually done at the Police Station by one of our representatives however, this is sometimes not possible and so we will invite you to one of our offices to complete the Legal Aid forms (Legal Aid CRM15/CRM14) or an online declaration.
What you can expect from Legal Aid:
Legal Aid covers a broad range of criminal matters and if you are arrested at the Police Station you are entitled to free legal advice and representation through the Duty Solicitor Scheme, no matter the allegations brought against you or your financial circumstances.
However, once charged at the Police Station and your matter is taken to the Magistrates’ Court, not all criminal proceedings are covered by Legal Aid and in some circumstances the Interests of Justice test will apply. Typical criminal charges that are not covered by Legal Aid funding are:
- Section 5 Public Order offences such as causing a disturbance in a residential area, persistently shouting abuse at passers-by, pestering people waiting to use public transport, rowdy behaviour in a street late at night etc.
- Road Traffic offences except for dangerous driving, drink driving (where you have been breathalysed with a reading over 120 mg of alcohol per 100 ml of breath), or driving whilst disqualified.
- Simple Possession of Class B or Class C drugs (where you have received no previous convictions for the same).
- Non-imprisonable offences.
- Motor offences
Although the above list is not exhaustive, we at ABV can provide competitive fee agreements should you need legal advice and representation for one of the above charges. We have a strong reputation nationwide and at courts up and down the country, providing excellent advice and representation at short notice but also impeccable client care, which is supported by our Lexcel, Chambers & Partners and Legal 500 accreditations. Please visit our Private Fees page for more information.
Once Legal Aid funding is in place you will receive notification via letter from the Legal Aid Agency (LAA) in the form of a Representation Order. This Order will tell you what type of representation is available to you and what stage of the proceedings it will extend to (Magistrate’s Court, Crown Court etc).
Typically, you will find that the Representation Order will extend to the Magistrates’ Court and the Crown Court depending on the seriousness of the offence(s). This means that your legal representation and advice will be free of charge until it reaches the Crown Court where a Contribution Order may be put in place depending on your financial circumstances. The LAA will notify you via letter if a contribution is needed from you to cover part of the costs for your legal advice and representation at the Crown Court.
The service we provide at ABV Solicitors will aim to ensure that your legal rights are defended and your interests protected at every stage of the proceedings. Although you can expect a high level of service while in receipt of Legal Aid, it is important to note that under the current Legal Aid fee structure, it is not always possible to ensure that the same solicitor will be dealing with your case from start to finish. This does not mean that you will receive any difference in the level of representation and advice given to you but the levels of service will be restricted.
Please contact us to discuss in further detail.