All about Legal Aid

All about Legal Aid

 

By Daniel Kellingley, Legal Services Commission

 

 

What is legal aid?

The Legal Services Commission (LSC) manages legal aid in England and Wales, having replaced the Legal Aid Board in April 2000. Legal aid helps with the costs of legal advice for people who can’t afford it, ensuring that everyone gets fair access to justice. In order to achieve this, the LSC runs two schemes:

 

The Community Legal Service (civil legal aid)

A civil legal case is one in which you have a dispute with a person, company, or other organisation. For example, a civil problem can be to do with:

 

• Your home


• Relationships (e.g. due to separation or divorce)


• Money (e.g. difficulty receiving benefits)

 

The Community Legal Service offers:

 

• Initial advice and assistance with any legal problem


• A solicitor who can speak on your behalf at court hearings, without formally representing you


• Help and advice on family disputes, including assistance with family mediation, to help resolve issues your family may be having


• Legal representation in court proceedings


• Support funding of some private cases – this includes multi-party actions (cases where several claimants (parties) have similar claims arising from the same event, such as would happen if numerous consumers found fault with a particular product) – these can be expensive

 

Who can get legal aid for civil legal problems?

Anyone who feels they need help with the costs of legal advice can apply for legal aid. Whether they will receive it depends on:

 

• The type of legal problem they have


• Their income (how much they earn) and how much capital (money, property, belongings) they have


• Whether there is a reasonable chance of winning their case and whether it is worth the time and money needed to win

 

You can use the legal aid calculator at www.communitylegaladvice.org.uk/en/legalaid/calculator.jsp to see whether you could get legal aid for a civil case.

 

The Criminal Defence Service (criminal legal aid)

The Criminal Defence Service can offer assistance if someone is arrested or charged with a crime. This consists of:

 

• Advice and assistance from a solicitor on criminal matters


• Free legal advice at the police station during questioning


• The cost of a solicitor preparing a case and initial representation for certain proceedings at a magistrates’ or Crown Court


• Full legal representation for defence in criminal cases at all court levels


• The provision of a duty solicitor to provide free legal advice and representation at magistrates’ courts

 

Who can get legal aid when they have been arrested or charged with a crime?

 

At a police station
Legal aid is available to everyone to obtain advice from a solicitor or accredited representative at police stations, regardless of their means. However, for some less serious offences, such as breaching a warrant, this assistance may be limited to telephone advice.

 

At a magistrates’ court
Legal aid is granted to an applicant who does not have the financial means to fund their own representation in a magistrates’ court and has passed the Interests of Justice test. This test considers factors such as whether a person would lose their liberty or livelihood should they be convicted of an offence. The means test in the magistrates’ court only considers income and expenses – capital is not included.

 

People who receive government assistance such as Job Seekers Allowance, automatically pass the means test – they are known as passported applicants.

 

For people who are not passported, there is an initial means test, which assesses their income and how this is spread between any dependents in order to determine their adjusted income.

 

If following the initial means test, an individual’s adjusted income is calculated to be more than £12,475 and less than £22,325, a second full means test is carried out. It works out an applicant’s disposable income after deducting tax, maintenance and other annual costs from the gross annual income.

 

For those who have complex financial circumstances it may be necessary to carry out a third complex means test.

 

Hardship reviews can be carried out if an applicant can show they are genuinely unable to fund their own representation.

 

A useful eligibility calculator will give you a guide on your eligibility for legal aid: www.legalservices.gov.uk/criminal/getting_legal_aid/eligibility_calculator.asp

 

Reclaiming costs

People who are ineligible for legal aid in the magistrates’ court and choose to fund their defence privately can apply to reclaim their costs if they are subsequently found not guilty. They can apply for these costs from Central Funds, a further source of funding from the Ministry of Justice.

 

Crown Court

A response to a joint consultation on means testing in Crown Courts, between the Legal Services Commission and the Ministry of Justice, will be published shortly.

 

 

Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are the views of the author only. If any issue affects you, you must instruct a solicitor and take appropriate legal advice.