Legal aid in criminal cases is administered by the Legal Services Commission ("LSC"). Since April 2001 this has been through the Criminal Defence Service of which this firm forms part. The rules and regulations are complex and change constantly. In certain circumstances legal aid in criminal matters is non-means tested. This firm undertakes a large amount of legal aid work.
Police Station advice
If you are arrested you are entitled to free and independent legal advice irrespective of your means and the offence for which you have been arrested. This advice can be delivered on the telephone but if you are to be interviewed by police, it is usually desirable to have a solicitor with you at the police station to advise in person.
Legal aid at the police station is available not only through the Duty Solicitor scheme (of which Birds Solicitors is a member) but also if you wish to contact this firm to seek advice directly. We run an emergency service to provide advice for those in police custody 24 hours a day 365 days a year. Call us on 07966 234994.
In some circumstances you may be asked to pay for this advice Such a situation may be if you specifically request a very senior solicitor to attend to advise you, the matter is at a considerable distance from our base and you wish a member of our team to attend personally or if for any reason the attendance would not be covered by the scheme.
DSS benefit fraud interviews
In order to obtain advice for a DSS benefit fraud interview, you have to satisfy a very stringent means test and sign a legal aid form in advance. Legal aid for such cases is limited to those on a low income. If you do not qualify for such advice, you will have to pay privately for any advice and/or representation.
Magistrates Court cases
Legal aid for a case in the Magistrates Court is means tested. In general terms, if you earn more than £21000, you are unlikely to qualify for legal aid unless you can show exceptional hardship. It is essential that you complete the appropriate legal aid application forms in advance of your first court hearing so that your application can be considered before you appear at court. You will need to provide documentary proof of your income and outgoings unless you are in receipt of a "passporting" benefit such as Jobseekers Allowance or Income Support when you automatically pass the means test.
Legal aid is also subject to a merits test so that legal aid is not generally granted for very minor offences. If you are to appear in the Magistrates Court you should speak to a solicitor about legal aid as soon as possible.
If you arrive at court unrepresented and have not previously applied for legal aid, in some cases, you are able to obtain the advice of a duty solicitor at court.
Once a decision has been made that your case will ultimately be heard at the Crown Court, legal aid will usually be granted subject to a contribution dependent on an assessment of your means.
Crown Court cases
Legal aid for cases which are to be tried in the Crown Court is also subject to a means test. Legal aid will normally be granted more easily for such cases as they are generally more serious than those which are tried in the Magistrates Court but there may well be payments to be made to finance the case either from income on a monthly basis or from capital.
You will be required to provide proof of your means as in the Magistrates Court in order to assess your entitlement to legal aid and any contributions towards costs that may be required.
Court of Appeal cases
If you have a case in the Court of Appeal where leave has been granted for the appeal to go ahead, you will generally have legal aid for an advocate. In some cases your legal aid may also allow a solicitor to prepare your case. This legal aid remains non-means tested. However, you are not able to mix and match private and public funds by paying for a solicitor but having the advocate under legal aid.
Other Appeal cases (including CCRC applications)
If you are seeking advice from us in relation to an appeal where we did not represent you at trial or in relation to an application to the Criminal Cases Review Commission, legal aid may be available to you. The advice and assistance scheme is strictly means tested and will not allow public funds to be spent on your case if you have more than a specified amount of capital or income. Most people in prison serving long sentences will qualify for such advice subject to the value of their assets. The scheme will not allow clients merely to obtain a second or third opinion because the first solicitor did not give advice that they agreed with.
If you do not qualify for legal aid you will have to pay privately for your representation and should contact us for an estimate of the likely costs.
In the event that you are successful in your case (i.e. the case does result in a conviction), you will no longer be able to apply for your costs to be reimbursed from Central Funds if your case was heard in the Crown Court or the Court of Appeal. You may make an application to have costs paid from Central Funds in the Magistrates' Court but your claim for reimbursement will be limited to the amount that the case would have cost had it been legally aided. Legal aid rates are so poor nowadays that as an average you will receive reimbursement of only about 20% of the fees actually incurred in defending the case.
We consider this development to be unfair and unreasonable. The Labour Government tried to bring in this change at which time it was vehemently opposed by both the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats. Unfortunately the Coalition Government once in power wasted no time in introducing the changes themselves in an effort to save money.