I am being accused of a criminal offence and have been given a court date. I can’t afford legal advice. What should I do?
You might be eligible to have your legal expenses paid for you by the Legal Aid scheme. Many criminal defence specialists can represent you through this scheme and will help you to apply for funding.
At the Magistrates Court, getting Legal Aid will depend on a two stage test – whether you are financially eligible and whether it is in the ‘interests of justice’ that you are represented in the proceedings.
The financial eligibility test is straightforward and if you are receiving benefits you are likely to be eligible for Legal Aid. If you are working or self-employed, or have a more complicated financial situation, whether you are eligible will depend on a calculation which is set by the Legal Aid Agency. The calculation takes into account factors such as your income, whether you have children and your living costs such as mortgage and rent. It is designed to ensure that those who don’t have sufficient spare income to pay a legal team get help for free.
If your case is sent to the Crown Court, you will automatically be financially eligible for Legal Aid but you may have to make a contribution towards your costs depending on your individual circumstances. Again, this is based on how much disposable income the Legal Aid Agency assess you as having.
Any solicitor who offers Legal Aid will be able to carry out an assessment and advise you both which court your case is likely to be heard in and, for Crown Court cases, if you are likely to have to contribute towards your legal costs.
The second part of the test addresses whether it wouldn’t be fair for you to represent yourself and considers factors such as how serious the offence you are charged with is, whether you are at risk of going to prison, how complex the law or the facts of your case appear to be and so on. Your solicitor will be able to tell you straightaway if you will pass this limb of the test and be eligible for Legal Aid.
You should contact a criminal defence solicitor as soon as possible and ask them for information about Legal Aid. Remember, there is no test for Legal Aid at the police station and everyone being interviewed by the police under suspicion of a criminal offence is entitled to a solicitor free of charge for the interview.
For further information please contact us on 0191 565 3112 or email email@example.com.
Please note that this advice was correct at the time of writing. However there may have been changes in the law or procedure since that date. If you are in doubt you should obtain up to date legal advice.