One of the key elements of any criminal justice system is the principle of equality of arms. This means that if you are being prosecuted by the state, who are presenting their case through a trained, qualified lawyer, you should be allowed to be represented by a similarly skilled advocate. However, if you do not have the financial means to pay for this assistance, legal aid allows for you to be professionally defended.
Legal Aid for Police Interviews
Anyone who is arrested by the police, or has an interview under caution, is entitled by law to have free and independent legal advice. This means that anyone can have a specially qualified lawyer with them when they are interviewed, without having to pay for the service. Unlike the rules for court proceedings (outlined below), there is no means test. Representation at this stage can make a tremendous difference to the outcome of a case, and for once in life you really do get something for nothing!
Legal Aid for Criminal Court Proceedings
Legal aid is granted to defendants subject to two tests:
- The interests of justice test- There has to be a compelling reason why the defendant needs the assistance of a legal advisor at the “expense” of the legal aid fund. This usually means that there is a risk of the defendant being given a prison sentence, or having to challenge expert evidence in a way that a defendant could not manage alone.
- The means test- if a defendant has savings or earnings over a set threshold, the Legal Aid Agency will not fund the case as they feel that if a defendant can afford to pay, he should pay.
If an application for legal aid is refused, it can be appealed or reviewed in certain circumstances. However, ultimately a defendant may have no option than to pay privately for their legal representation.
If you are accused of a criminal offence, and want to know whether you would be eligible for legal aid, contact us and we can discuss the general details of your case to give an initial opinion on whether you are likely to qualify. Either way, we can recommend a suitable solicitor or barrister who can represent you, either on legal aid, private fees, a fixed fee arrangement, or a direct access basis.