One of the terms that people will associate with the criminal justice system is the “duty solicitor.” However, there can be confusion and sometimes even suspicion about what this role involves. This page is intended to explain exactly what it means.
A duty solicitor is a local specialist criminal defence solicitor who has an extra accreditation to take part in the duty scheme. This accreditation requires the solicitor to demonstrate that they have sufficient experience representing clients at the police station and at the Magistrates’ Court. The Legal Aid Agency produces a rota for all the police stations and courts in a certain area, and each accredited solicitor will be allocated slots as part of this rota.
Duty Solicitor at the Police Station
When anyone is suspected of a criminal offence, they are likely to be interviewed under caution. The suspect has a number of rights and entitlements, the most important of which is the right to free and independent legal advice.
If a suspect wants to be represented by a solicitor, but doesn’t have a specific solicitor they want to instruct, the duty solicitor can be instructed to attend and represent them.
Basically, the duty solicitor is the default solicitor on call for anyone who needs to be represented, but doesn’t have their own solicitor that they wish to instruct. The solicitor will then attend for the interview, advise the suspect, and may take on the case from that point if any additional work is needed.
Duty Solicitor at the Magistrates’ Court
Every Magistrates’ Court will also have a separate rota for a duty solicitor to be available to represent a defendant at court. The Duty Scheme has some limitations at Court, as only offences that carry a potential prison sentence or disqualification from driving are covered. However, depending on how busy the court list is, some solicitors may be able to assist with other matters as well.
Usually the solicitor will be asked to advise a defendant attending the first hearing in a case, and will be able to explain the offence and advise on what plea to enter. If the defendant appears in custody from the police station, the solicitor can also apply for bail. If the defendant pleads guilty, the Magistrates or District Judge may want to proceed to sentence on the same day, and the solicitor can make submissions on behalf of the defendant.
If a case is adjourned for trial or sent to the Crown Court, the defendant will have to instruct a solicitor to represent them. This may be the solicitor who acted as the duty solicitor, or anyone else they choose. However, the defendant will either have to obtain legal aid or pay privately for representation- the Duty Scheme does not cover either of these scenarios.
Alternatively the duty solicitor might be asked to represent someone who has previously pleaded guilty and is before the court for sentence, usually after Probation have prepared pre-sentence reports.
- Does the Duty Solicitor work for the police? No! Every solicitor who represents a client at either a police interview or a court hearing is independent of the police. Criminal defence solicitors have a duty to act in their client’s best interests, and are not working for the police.
- Is the Duty Solicitor any good? Yes! In order to become accredited, the solicitor has to pass a series of assessments to demonstrate that they have sufficient experience to do the job properly.
- How much will the Duty Solicitor cost? Nothing! Their attendance at either the police station or court is funded by the Legal Aid Agency. Any further work carried out on your case may require additional funding, but the solicitor should advise you about whether Legal Aid is available.
- Can the Duty Solicitor represent me at trial? No. The duty scheme does not include representing a defendant at trial.
For more information, look at the following links: