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Legal Aid

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Will I get legal aid?

In some circumstances you can get legal aid, for example:

  • You or your children are at risk of domestic violence or forced marriage;
  • You’re going to be made homeless;
  • You need family mediation;
  • You’re being discriminated against;
  • You’re taking a case to court under the Human Rights Act;
  • You’ve been accused of a crime and could go to prison.

There are 2 types of legal aid, (a) for civil cases and (b) for criminal cases. All applications for criminal cases are means tested. Some applications for civil cases are not means tested and are completely free, for example care proceedings and Mental Health Tribunal cases.

Civil cases

If your case is a civil matter you can go to the GOV.UK website and for information about legal aid including:

  • An overview;
  • What you can get;
  • Eligibility;
  • How to claim;
  • In domestic abuse cases, about getting evidence that you or your children have been victims of domestic abuse or violence; and
  • Legal problems abroad.

Civil cases where legal aid is available include a wide range of matters such as:

  • Asylum and immigration;
  • Community care;
  • Debt;
  • Discrimination;
  • Education;
  • Family;
  • Housing;
  • Mental health and mental capacity;
  • Welfare benefits and council tax;
  • Exceptional funding cases.

The Law Society provides more detail about these particular legal categories and what qualifies.  Each of these categories include lots of different kinds of problems.

You’ll probably be surprised by the number of issues that are covered. The problem in some instances though is more likely to be whether you can find a legal aid lawyer. Look for law centres and other charities that may be able to help you. The Law Society website helps with this providing a search service:  See the Law Society.

Some examples of the types of case entitled to legal aid:

Community care:

  • Advice about help or services from your local authority and the NHS because of illness; Disability or mental capacity (including Court of Protection cases);
  • Disputes about the quality of care in hospitals and residential or nursing homes;
  • Disputes about abuse or neglect.

Housing:

  • Unlawful eviction;
  • Possession claims;
  • Antisocial behaviour;
  • Harassment injunctions (court orders);
  • Taking legal action against your landlord for serious disrepair;
  • Homelessness, including asylum support for accommodation.

Family:

  • Applications for forced marriage protection orders;
  • Care cases – cases involving social services relating to children at risk, being taken into care or in care (parents and grandparents can be represented);
  • Cases where your child has been or is about to be taken out of the UK without your consent;
  • Some High Court proceedings about the welfare of your child;
  • Family mediation, to resolve disputes about children and finance due to a relationship breakdown;
  • An injunction (a court order) against a violent or abusive partner or family member;
  • Other family problems, such as advice on finances, children or divorce, if you or your child have suffered or are at risk of violence or abuse;
  • If you’ve been served with proceedings under the “Hague Convention”. These are cases where the Court’s role is to determine which country has the power (jurisdiction) to decide where the child should live. This ultimately will be the country where the child had been habitually resident up until the removal/retention.

Legal aid for domestic abuse

A legal aid application in domestic abuse and violence requires that you or your children must have been victims of domestic abuse or violence or of financial control, such as, for example, being stopped from accessing a joint bank account.

How to provide evidence of domestic abuse?

You usually need to show that you or your children are at risk of harm from an ex-partner.

You can ask for evidence from:

  • The courts;
  • The police;
  • A multi-agency risk assessment conference (MARAC);
  • Social services;
  • A health professional, for example a doctor, nurse, midwife, psychologist or health visitor;
  • A refuge manager;
  • A domestic violence support service;
  • Your bank, for example credit card accounts, loan documents and statements;
  • Your employer, or education or training provider;
  • The provider of any benefits you’ve received.

You can download and print a sample letter to send to the police, courts, or medical and social services, which will help you get the proof you need.  Access copies here if you’ve been a victim or here if your children have been victims.

Give the letter to the person you’re asking to provide evidence. They’ll be able to fill in the details for you.

You might have to pay a fee.

How can I find legal aid solicitors?

You can find legal aid solicitors via the Law Society.

Criminal cases

Will I get Criminal Legal Aid?

If you have been arrested or have to attend an interview under caution with the police, by law you are always entitled to free legal advice and representation whatever your financial circumstances. Everyone has the right to free legal advice when at a police station. If you are arrested always say you want to be represented.

If you are subsequently charged with an offence or are summoned to appear before Court, then you may be entitled to legal aid but only if you meet the necessary criteria.

Two tests are made for legal aid and you have to apply to the Magistrates Court.

  1. The Interests of Justice Test, which is whether your case has the features that might warrant legal representation.

Legal Aid is rarely allowed for offences that do not carry imprisonment as a possible sentence.

In a case that is imprisonable, 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;
  • How easy it would be for you to challenge the prosecution yourself.

However if you suffer from some disability that would make it difficult for you to properly represent your case then legal aid may be available.

  1. The Means Test

To check your financial eligibility use this calculator.

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.

Crown Court, Legal Aid, contribution and refund

The same two rules apply if your case goes to the Crown Court but it is very likely that the Interests of Justice test will be passed if the case ends up there. Also, 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 £37,000 per annum. You may have to pay a contribution towards it which is assessed by the Agency and usually repayable over 6 months.

The contribution rules are complex and so it’s best to discuss the situation with the lawyers who represent 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.

Depending on the circumstances, if you are found guilty you may be required to pay towards your own defence costs.

You must 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 you are found guilty you will be required to contribute to the costs of the prosecution.

What if I’m not able to get legal aid?

Check the Citizens Advice website for help in finding free or affordable legal help.

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