For understandable reasons, facing a criminal investigation or criminal charges in court can be one of the most harrowing and stressful events that an individual or family might have to experience.

An understanding of how your case can be funded or the availability of financial support for your case is a factor that can be a further source of worry. At Lawtons we are able to offer legal aid to many of our clients.

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 both you as the client and the case itself.

A criminal case can be funded in a variety of ways and it’s advisable to look at what stage a case may have reached to obtain 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 a police station for a voluntary interview, we are often able to attend the police station free of charge via 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 being represented is the best option for you. There are occasions where if you have been previously advised by the duty solicitor at the police station and you then wish to use our specialist services, we are unable to attend for free. In such cases, we will always discuss with you why you wish to change solicitors and see if we can still attend under legal aid. If we cannot attend funded by legal aid, we can discuss our fees and offer a fixed fee estimate depending on what may be required.

If you have not been detained by the police and you require advice and assistance away from the police station, there are occasions when legal aid is still available, albeit with limitations. This availability is also dependant on whether you may have previously had advice from a solicitor and whether your financial means are such that you are eligible. If legal aid is not available, we are able to discuss our representation rates and can often provide a reduced fee service depending on what your case concerns. In these circumstances, it is always best to contact us to see how we can help you 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. The forms that need to be completed to determine if you qualify for legal aid funding can be complicated and we would encourage you to contact us so that we can discuss your circumstances and potential eligibility.

Once these forms are fully completed, 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 to do so.

To receive legal aid in the ‘interest of justice’,  the legal aid agency considers various elements including how serious your case is and whether you may be likely to receive a prison sentence. If you pass this test, the agency then considers your financial eligibility for legal aid.

If you or a partner receive certain state benefits, you will automatically pass this test. You will also pass the test if you:

  1. Are under 18 years of age
  2. Receive Income Support benefit
  3. Receive Income related ESA benefit
  4. Receive Income based JSA benefit
  5. Receive guaranteed state pension credit
  6. Receive universal credit

If you and/or your partner are working you may still pass this test, depending on how much you earn and what your weekly or monthly outgoings are. Using the information on the forms provided, the legal aid agency works out your disposable income, taking into account financial outgoings including rent or mortgage payments.

If you alone – or jointly with your partner if applicable – receive £12,475 or less 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 do not wish to apply for legal aid – perhaps because you would like a specific person to deal with your case – or you know you will not be eligible for funding, we can discuss your individual 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 give you complete clarity as to what our costs will be.

There is no difference between the level of service we provide for legal aid clients versus privately funded clients, however with legal aid funding there are some restrictions on what we can do and the level or amount of work that we are permitted to do. It may also be more difficult to ensure the same person is always dealing with you or a particular person itself. There are also limitations on how much we can pay expert scientists or doctors should we need to obtain expert witness reports. If you wish to be fully in control of what is undertaken and by whom, a privately funded case allows for this flexibility.

Crown court funding

If your case is due to be heard in the Crown Court, legal aid funding may be available. The same forms required for magistrates’ court hearings need to be completed and submitted to the legal aid agency.

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 towards the legal costs of defending your case, this 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 your disposable income. The financial threshold for legal aid in the crown court should you not be automatically entitled to receive funding 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 entitlement in the magistrates’ court will be considered.

Should you not be entitled to receive legal aid or you are unable to provide the relevant information enabling an assessment to be completed by the legal aid agency, then you will need to pay for your legal costs privately 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. Get in touch with us to see how our specialist solicitors can help you.

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.