Mr B was a young man who had been in extensive trouble as a youth for various matters. He had been arrested by the police as a result of his fingerprints being found at the scene of a robbery at a jeweller. The police would not reveal where in the shop the fingerprints had been found.
The Police Station
All advice and assistance given at the police station is free of charge. If you are arrested, or asked to attend a police custody suite or police station for a voluntary interview, we can attend on your behalf and our services are completely free.
Magistrates’ and Crown Court
The Interests of Justice Test Explained
At the present moment in time there are two different schemes in relation to legal aid; one for the magistrates’ court and one for the Crown Court.
For both schemes, the Interests of Justice test has to be met. If your case meets any of the below criteria you will have passed the test:
- It is likely that I will lose my liberty
- I have been given a sentence that is suspended or non-custodial. If I break this, the court may be able to deal with me for the original offence
- It is likely that I will lose my livelihood
- It is likely that I will suffer serious damage to my reputation
- A substantial question of law may be involved
- I may not be able to understand the court proceedings or present my own case
- I may need witnesses to be traced or interviewed on my behalf
- The proceedings may involve expert cross-examination of a prosecution witness
- It is in the interests of another person that I am represented
- Any other reasons.
In reality almost all cases that go to the Crown Court will pass the test. Most magistrates’ court cases that carry imprisonment as a punishment are also likely to pass. Driving matters where only a fine can be imposed are very unlikely to pass the test.
Once the Interests of Justice test has been passed, there is a further test. The means test, which again applies to both courts, is different depending on which court your case is heard in.
The Means Tests Explained
The means test in the magistrates’ court is relatively straightforward. You either qualify for free legal aid or you do not.
The court looks at your annual household income minus your living costs and family circumstances. If you receive less than £12,475 per annum then you pass the means test and you will receive legal aid. If you are single, the annual household income is your income. If you live with a partner it is your joint income. If your partner is the complainant or a prosecution witness it is your income.
If your annual household income is greater than £22,325 then you do not qualify for legal aid.
If your annual household income is between those two figures the court will do a full assessment of your means and will look at other expenses, such as childcare costs, and will determine your annual disposable income. If the annual disposable income is less than £3,398 you qualify for legal aid, and if it is greater than that figure you do not qualify for legal aid.
There will be occasions when you do not qualify for legal aid because your disposable income is more than £3,398, but it is possible to make a hardship application to the court on the basis that your legal expenses will bring your disposable income below that figure.
As a rule of thumb, if you earn less than £200 per week you will receive legal aid. If you earn more than £400 per week you will, most likely, not qualify for legal aid.
In the magistrates’ court there is no consideration as to your capital assets; it is purely based on your income.
The income is not only your earnings from employment but can also include any rent you receive and even a student loan.
The Crown Court
The Means Tests Explained
Means testing for legal aid has now been extended to the Crown Court and the scheme is different to that in the magistrates’ court. If you are passported by age, under 18 or on one of the qualifying benefits, then it is granted in the same way as it would be in the magistrates’ court and there will be no contributions to pay from any income or capital.
However, defendants who may not qualify for legal aid in the magistrates’ court because their earnings are above the eligibility limits, will still receive legal aid in the crown court but will be asked to pay contributions towards their legal defence costs from both income and capital.
The court will assess annual disposable income in the same way that it does in the magistrates’ court and contributions are based on the amount of annual disposable income over £3,398 per annum.
The annual disposable income is divided by twelve to create a monthly amount and you are then asked to pay 90% of your monthly disposable income for a period of five months. That becomes six payments if any payments are received late. For example, if your annual disposable income is £4,200, that gives a monthly figure of £350. You would be required to pay 90% of that figure, £315, for five months, making a total of £1,575.
There are maximum amounts of contributions from income depending on the type of case.
If you are found not guilty then your contributions are returned to you with compound interest at 2% per year.
If, on the conclusion of the case, you have been found guilty or have pleaded guilty the court may then look at your capital assets. If you have capital assets of more than £30,000 and your contributions from income have not covered the whole of your defence costs, the court can require you to repay the remainder of the defence costs from your capital.
If your contributions have exceeded the total defence costs then you may be refunded some monies.
Whatever the situation we will advise and assist you in filling out the forms and do our best to help you get legal representation.