To obtain legal aid for criminal defence cases, a two stage test applies. Both elements of the test must be passed to qualify:
- An interest of justice test
- A means test
What is an interest of justice test?
An interest of justice test is a merit-based test which looks at a number of elements, with the following in particular regarded as priorities:
- The nature of the offence
- The risk of a custodial sentence
- Any previous convictions
If the first stage is not passed then you will be refused legal aid.
If you pass the first stage of the test, the second stage – a means test – will then be considered.
What is a means test?
The following criteria will automatically qualify you for legal aid under the second stage of the test:
- If you are below 18 years of age
- If you receive Income Support benefit
- If you receive income related ESA benefit
- If you receive income based JSA benefit
- If you receive guaranteed state pension credit
- If you receive universal credit
If you do not fit into one of the above categories and you alone – or together with a partner – receive £12,475 in income per year from all sources before tax or other deductions, you will also be entitled to legal aid under the means assessment test.
If you earn more than £12,475 but your total household income is less than £22,325, you may still be eligible for legal aid, dependant on your disposable income once the following monetary factors have been considered:
- Amount of dependent children
- Childcare maintenance payments
The availability of legal aid in the crown court
If your case proceeds to the crown court, you may be entitled to legal aid on a contribution basis, meaning that you may be asked to pay a monthly contribution towards your legal costs.
The amount you will be expected to pay towards your legal costs depends on your income. You will receive a contribution notice advising you of your liability.
Should you not be automatically entitled to receive legal aid, the financial threshold for legal aid in the crown court 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 receive legal aid you will need to pay for your legal costs privately if you wish to be represented.
At Lawtons we can advise you more specifically about your individual eligibility for legal aid. We can also provide you with an estimate of what our costs might be should you not be eligible for legal aid or you do not wish to apply for it. Contact us to discuss your options.
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. 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.