For understandable reasons, facing Criminal investigation or criminal charges in a court can be one of the most harrowing and stressful of experiences an individual or family might have to experience.
An understanding of how your case can be funded or the availability of support with your case is a factor that can be a further source of worry. We are able to offer Legal Aid to many clients, or if Legal Aid is not available or you would prefer to fund your case privately, we are able to offer bespoke estimates and quotations that are tailored to the individual circumstances of you as the client and the case itself.
A criminal case can be funded in a variety of ways and it’s easiest to look at what stage a case may have reached to get a better understanding of what funding may be available.
Police Station and Pre-Court Funding
If you are at the Police Station or have been asked to attend there voluntarily to be questioned as a suspect by a police officer then we are often able to attend the Police Station FREE of Charge with you as we are able to offer Legal Aid, which is a free advice and assistance service for those detained by the police. Generally speaking, as we are able to offer FREE legal advice and assistance for most people at the police station we strongly advise that this is probably the best option for you. There are occasions, where if you have been previously advised by the “duty solicitor” and want to change to us, as frequently happens due to our expertise, that we are unable to attend for free. In those cases, we will always discuss with you why you wish to change solicitors and see if we can still attend under Legal Aid, if not, we can discuss our fees and offer a fixed fee estimate depending on what may be required.
If you are not detained by the police and require advice and assistance away from the police station, there are occasions when Legal Aid is still available albeit with limitations and dependant on whether you may have previously had advice from a solicitor before and whether your financial means are such that you are eligible. If no legal aid is available, we are able to discuss our rates and can often provide a reduced fee service depending on what your case concerns. In these circumstances, it is always best to call us to see how we can help and if there will be any cost for us to do so.
Magistrates Court Funding
If you are required to attend the Magistrates Court, there are occasions when Legal Aid may be available depending on the type of case that you are attending for and what your financial circumstances are. For Legal Aid to be granted to a defendant in the Magistrates Court, there are a series of questions and Forms that need to be completed and submitted to the Legal Aid Agency. We can help you do this. By completing these forms, the Legal Aid Agency is able to decide whether it is, firstly, in the “interests of justice” that you should receive Legal Aid and, secondly, whether you are financially eligible:
- Interest of Justice: In deciding whether your case justifies Legal Aid in the “interests of justice” the Legal Aid Agency considers various things, including how serious your case is, for example, whether you may be at risk of receiving a prison sentence. If you pass this test, the Agency then considers:
- Financial Eligibility: If you or a partner are receiving certain state benefits or meet the following, you will automatically pass this test:
- Under 18 years of age
- Income Support benefit
- Income related ESA benefit
- Income based JSA benefit
- Guarantee State Pension credit
- Universal Credit
If you and/ or your partner are working you may still satisfy this test, depending on how much is earnt and what your weekly/monthly expenses may be. The Legal Aid Agency, using the information on the forms provided, works out what your disposable income, taking into account various things including rental or mortgage payments. If you (if single) or together with a partner, receive in a year from all sources before tax or other deductions £12,475 or less, then you will also be entitled to legal aid under the means assessment.
The forms that need to be completed can be complicated and we would strongly urge you to contact us so that we can discuss your circumstances and potential eligibility.
If you do not wish to apply for Legal Aid or are not going to be eligible, we can discuss your case and what it entails. We are able to offer bespoke estimates of costs, which take into account the specific features of your case. Our costs are transparent and understandable so that fully informed decisions can be made at each stage of your case. In certain circumstances, we are able to offer Fixed Fees, which gives you the client complete certainty as to what our costs will be.
We are often asked whether there is a difference between the level of service we provide for legal aid client versus privately funded clients. The simple answer is no, but of course with Legal Aid there are some restrictions on what we can do and the level or amount of work that we are permitted to do, there are also limitations on how much we can pay for expert scientists or doctors should we need to get Expert Witness Reports. If you want to be fully in control of what is done and by whom, a privately funded case allows for this flexibility.
Crown Court Funding
If your case is in the Crown Court or going to be dealt with in the Crown Court, Legal Aid may be available. The same Forms need to be completed and they get submitted to the Legal Aid Agency just as in the Magistrates Court.
As the Crown Court deals with the more serious offences, it is almost inevitable that the Legal Aid Agency will agree that it is in the “interests of justice” that you should be represented.
Depending on how much you (and or your partner if relevant) earn, you may qualify for Legal Aid, but may have to make a contribution towards the costs of your court case. If you are required to make a contribution it is assessed by and paid to the Legal Aid Agency on a monthly basis for no more than the first six months of your case. If you are successful in the outcome of your case, you will ordinarily be entitled to the return of that contribution.
The amount of any contribution is calculated based upon disposable income, The financial threshold for legal aid in the Crown Court should you not be automatically entitled is between the lower limit of £12,475 and £37,500. If your yearly income is between these figures then the same financial factors for legal aid in the Magistrates Court will be considered.
Should you not be entitled to legal aid or provide the relevant information enabling an assessment to be completed by the Legal Aid Agency, then you will need to pay privately for your legal costs should you wish to be represented.
We can advise you more specifically about your individual eligibility for legal aid and can also provide you with an estimate of what our costs might be should you not be eligible for legal aid or not wish to apply for it.
Nb. This guide is intended to give general information only and not intended to be used as the basis upon which Advice is given nor should it be relied upon as giving advice specific to a case or individual and Lawtons do not accept liability for anyone using this guide. Should you require specific advice in connection with a real case or situation, please contact us immediately so that we can provide specific Advice