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Wednesday, 3 October 2012

Legal aid and representation at court if you're charged with a crime

If you have been charged with a crime, legal aid may pay for a solicitor or barrister to represent you at court. There are certain conditions you need to meet to qualify for legal aid. Find out if you qualify for legal aid for representation in a criminal case.

Legal aid for representation - checking if you qualify

A solicitor or barrister can help prepare your case and speak on your behalf

You may need a solicitor or barrister to represent you at a magistrates’ court or Crown Court when you’re charged with a crime. They can help prepare your defence before you go to court and speak on your behalf during a trial.

You may be able to get legal aid to pay the solicitors’ or barristers’ costs if:

  • your case meets the Interests of Justice test
  • you pass a ‘means test’ which looks at your financial situation

To find out if you can get legal aid to pay for this, you’ll need to give your solicitor or barrister:

  • details of the type of case you are involved in
  • information about your finances (like your income)

What you need to show your legal adviser

When you first visit your solicitor or barrister, you should take your charge sheet, summons or any other papers the police or court have given you.

You should also take proof of any benefits or income you get, like benefit award notification letters or a recent wage slip.

If you’re self-employed, you should take your most recent accounts (which must be from last 18 months) or full tax return.

If your case is in the Crown Court, you’ll also need to give your legal adviser evidence about your ‘capital’ assets, like property you own.

The Interests of Justice test

The Interests of Justice test checks to see if you should have your legal representation paid for

Your solicitor will check whether your type of case means you should get your legal representation at court paid for. You are likely to pass this test if you could:

  • go to prison
  • lose your job
  • have your reputation damaged
  • find it difficult to follow court proceedings because of language difficulties or mental illness

Checking your finances - the 'means test'

Your solicitor will check your finances (for example, your income and savings) to see if you can afford your own legal representation.

You will automatically qualify for legal aid if you either:

  • get Income Support, Income-Based Jobseeker’s Allowance or Guaranteed State Pension Credit
  • are under 16 years of age (or under 18 years of age and in full-time education)

If your case is being heard at a magistrates’ court

If you don’t automatically pass the means test, you might still qualify for legal aid at a magistrates’ court if:

  • your annual income is less than £12,475
  • your annual income is between £12,475 and £22,325 but your monthly spare income is less than £283 a month

Spare income is the amount of money you have left over after your essential bills are paid.

If your spare income is more than £283 a month, you will have to pay your own legal bills.

If your case is being heard at a Crown Court

If you don’t automatically pass the means test, you might still qualify for legal aid at Crown Court if:

  • your spare income is less than £283 per month
  • you can’t afford to pay from your income

If your monthly spare income is £283 or more you will have to pay 90 per cent of it towards legal fees for up to five months. Or you can pay the whole amount upfront.

Repaying legal aid if you're found guilty

When and if you need to repay legal aid depends on the type of court that dealt with your case and your financial circumstances.

If you are found guilty at magistrates’ court, you don’t need to repay the legal aid.

If you are found guilty at Crown Court, you might have to repay some or all of the legal aid if you have more than £30,000 in ‘capital’. ‘Capital’ means, for example, your income, savings, property and investments. Speak to your solicitor for further advice.

Help and advice in Welsh

You can get information about dealing with your legal problems in Welsh by following the link below.

Additional links

Are you missing out?

You could be entitled to financial support - find out what's available

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