Public Funding in Criminal Cases

Reasons for public funding

Public funding is available for the majority of criminal cases; in order to protect the liberty, livelihood and reputation of citizens. Access to justice is extremely important. European laws also protect free legal advice in criminal cases. The European Convention on Human Rights states that anyone charged with a criminal offence is entitled to defend themselves in person or with free legal assistant if they cannot pay for it themselves. Previously, the Legal Aid Scheme was in place to assist funding for criminal cases. This scheme is no longer in use and has been replaced by the laws discussed below. Public law centres and Citizens Advice Bureaus also offer free legal advice but these bodies may not be available for representation.

The law surrounding public funding

The law in England and Wales is currently governed by the Access to Justice Act (AJA) 1999 and the Criminal Defence Service Act 2006. The Legal Services Commission was set up. The Commission then set up the Criminal Defence Service (CDS), to give people charged with criminal offences (defendants) access to free legal advice and representation if needed. The CDS maintain contracts with private law firms and also defence lawyers employed by the government’s Public Defender Service.

Representation available at police station

There are a number of services available to the public, depending on their circumstances and the stage they are at in criminal proceedings.  Firstly, a duty solicitor is often needed when someone is arrested and detained at a police station.  As part of European and current Police laws, everyone has the right to a solicitor at this stage. If they cannot afford their own solicitor, a duty solicitor may be called to provide them with legal advice and assist them in an interview. Free legal advice should be offered and it is not advisable to be interviewed without it. A duty solicitor may also be called upon to represent someone in court if the court needs to decide on further eligibility for funding or if the defendant pleads guilty at the magistrates court and a sentence is given there and then.

Applying for representation

A defendant may apply for public funding for a lawyer for their first hearing, who well then provide representation throughout the course of the trial. The Court will make a decision on whether they are entitled to funding, this will be considered after their not guilty at the first hearing. An application for a Criminal Representation Order is made orally to the Court. Form CDS14, available from the Court, will also need to be completed and handed into that same court.

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For more information on:

  • Interests of Justice Test
  • Means Test
  • Representation for the duration of the trial