In order for you to receive Legal Aid, we first make an application on your behalf to the Magistrate’s Court. This application can be broken down into two tests which are known as:
Interests of Justice Test – This is the first test of the two which you must pass. At this stage of the application, to determine whether your case has the features that might warrant legal representation. Legal Aid is rarely available for offences that do not carry imprisonment as a possible sentence. However, if you suffer some disability that would make it difficult for you to properly represent your case Legal Aid may be available. In a case that is impressionable whether or not Legal Aid is granted will depend on other factors including; how serious the charges are, whether you admit them or not, how complex your defence might be, whether witnesses have to be located and how easy it would be for you to challenge the prosecution yourself.
Means Test – This second test will be based on your financial situation. If you are claiming certain benefits which include Job seekers allowance, income support or a guaranteed pension then you will automatically pass this test and be eligible for Legal Aid. If you are not in receipt of these “passport benefits the level of your income has to be calculated and documented.
If you and/or your partner receive an income other than benefits which is £21,000 or more, then you will not be eligible for Legal Aid. Additionally, if you are single and your gross income per year is above £11,590 you will not be entitled to Legal Aid. Please note that if you earn between £11,590 and £21,000 it may be possible to make a claim taking some expenses into account.
In every application you have to consent to the Legal Aid Agency making enquiry of the Benefits Agencies and the Inland Revenue to confirm your finances and provide documentary evidence of wages and other income. You commit a serious offence if you give false information on the application.
Crown Court and Legal Aid
The same rules apply if your case goes to the Crown Court and it highly likely that the Interests of Justice test will be passed. However in the Crown Court even if your income is above the Magistrate’s limits you will be granted Legal Aid provided that you have an income of less than £37000 per annum. You may have to pay a contribution towards it which is assessed by the Agency and usually payable over 6 months.
The contribution rules are complex and our lawyers will discuss these matters with you to ensure you receive the most cost effective representation.
If by the end of your case you are found not guilty, then any contribution you have made will normally be refunded with interest unless you paid late or not at all. Additionally, depending on the circumstances, if you are found guilty you may be required to pay towards your defence costs. On a finding of guilt you will be required to contribute to the costs of the prosecution.
It is also worth noting that you will not have to pay any costs towards your case if the following applies to you:
- If you are under the age of 18
- Claim Jobseekers Allowance
- Claim income support
- Claim employment and/or support allowance
- Have/will have state pension credit
In relation to your finances, you must also notify the Court of any changes to your financial circumstances as this will affect the amount you will have to pay for your defence costs. If there is a discrepancy in relation to this, you can ask for a review but you must provide the correct documents to support your claims.
If you are not sure whether you are entitled to Legal Aid, our Criminal Defence Solicitors are available to find out. If you are, they will be able to collate any required documents on your behalf to support your case in acquiring Legal Aid for your trial.