Will I be granted Criminal Legal Aid?
Will I be granted Criminal Legal Aid?
This article is for people who would be eligible for legal aid but need to complete the forms and provide supporting documents or provide further information before legal aid will be granted.
Am I eligible for criminal legal aid?
There are many factors which affect this and your solicitor will advise you if you are eligible according to various factors such as:
• Your income;
• Your family circumstances, for example the number of children you have;
• Your essential living costs, for example the amount you pay in mortgage or rent.
There are various calculators online which will show whether you are eligible for legal aid. This link will assist with helping you to work out if you are eligible: If you are still unsure then please contact our Legal Aid Team as soon as possible.
Why do I need to prove I am eligible for criminal legal aid?
Over the course of the last 10 or so years, the legal aid budget has been reduced, and for criminal cases, less and less offences are even covered by legal aid at all. The means test has also been made stricter and the Legal Aid Authority (LAA) are obliged to ensure that only the people who can prove that they pass the means test should receive it. It is designed to prevent fraudulent and undeserving legal aid claims.
What documents will I need to provide to get criminal legal aid?
The first and most important information your solicitor will definitely need is your National Insurance number. For those on certain benefits such as ESA, JSA, Income Support and Pension Credit there can be an automatic online check to confirm whether you are actually receiving such benefit and whether you will qualify for legal aid. If you pass this there is usually nothing else to provide and your form can be submitted. If you fail this the LAA may ask for further information such as proof of your benefits and/or your last 3 months bank statements.
If you are self-employed or employed the Legal Aid Authority will require various supporting documents. These include your last 6 months personal bank statements, 6 months business bank statements, 6 months income and outgoings, most recent tax return, national insurance contribution letter, your last 1 month of , and sometimes proof of rent or mortgage. This is as much a headache for us as you! However it really is just a case of gathering the documents and getting them to us, and we can sort the rest. The application will be automatically rejected if you do not provide the requested information.
If you are not working and not receiving benefits, you might struggle to get legal aid unless you can prove how you are managing to buy your food or pay your rent/bills day to day without any income. Sometimes this can be as basic as a letter from the person who is supporting you, or even from yourself with a credible explanation of how you are able to live. The Legal Aid Agency have even been known to accept a letter from a defendant who confirmed that he was a professional gambler and so was able to obtain an income from that! The most important thing is that if there is no explanation provided, no legal aid will be granted. Again, our legal aid team can help you with the specifics that you will need for your case.
What are the time scales for applying for criminal legal aid?
Depending on the area and the Court, the LAA take about 2 weeks to determine an application which has been submitted with all the correct documents. There is no point in providing documents on the day before the case is heard. It is extremely important that your documents are submitted well in advance of your next hearing. If your solicitors do not have legal aid in place on the day of the hearing, they will not be able to represent you at Court.
What if I do not have criminal legal aid by the time of my hearing?
If you are granted legal aid, then we are paid by the LAA to deal with your case, and this is our income as a firm. We have taken a large reduction in our income under the same cuts to legal aid. As a firm we have taken an active role in protesting against these cuts to avoid a situation where someone who needs legal advice cannot gain access to it. We hate to make the decision to let a client represent him/herself. However, if after several letters we are unable to secure legal aid then we have to take the unfortunate approach that we will not attend. We are working our best within our Legal Aid Team to avoid any situations like this. If you do not have legal aid you will have to pay privately, or to represent yourself in Court. This can be a scary prospect and can result in decisions being made at Court without proper legal consideration. We would always advise against this if it is avoidable.
What if I am granted criminal legal aid but cannot afford the Contribution Payments?
If you are granted legal aid you will receive advice and representation from your solicitor. In the Crown Court the LAA sometimes make a Contribution Order requiring you to pay some money towards your legal aid costs. Please note that the LAA are the ones who set the contribution amount, not your solicitor. If you cannot meet those payments, perhaps there was a change to your income or outgoings, they can potentially be reduced in two ways. You can make a Hardship Application, or a request to re-assess your application due to a change of financial circumstances. Our Legal Aid Team can assist you with the forms and how to gather supporting documents for these situations.
If you are still required to pay the Contributions however, then the LAA will hand your case to a firm called Rossendales, which is the LAA’s debt collection agency. The options are then to pay the contribution in one lump sum or to split the payments over 6 months. Note that your case will still go ahead and we can still represent you, but you will continue to be chased by the Legal Aid Agency for repayment until this is paid. We would urge anyone unsure about their eligibility for legal aid or which supporting documents are required to contact us as early as possible. We can assist with a simple checklist of documents you need to gather and we will do the rest. Do not delay!