What is legal aid?
Legal aid helps with the costs of legal advice for people who can’t afford it.If you need help with the costs of legal advice, you can apply for legal aid. Whether you will receive it will depend upon :
- the type of legal problem you have;
- your income (how much you earn) and how much capital (money, property, belongings) you have;
- whether there is a reasonable chance of winning your case and whether it is worth the time and money needed to win.
About legal aid
The government provides funding for legal aid to help people:
- protect their basic rights and get a fair hearing ;
- access the court process to sort out disputes ;
- solve problems that contribute to social exclusion.
The Legal Services Commission (LSC) runs the legal aid scheme in England and Wales. Their work is overseen by the Ministry of Justice and the annual legal budget is set by the Treasury.
The LSC looks after legal aid in England and Wales. The Scottish Legal Aid Board and the Northern Ireland Legal Services Commission run the system in those countries.
Who can get legal aid?
Legal aid is available for both criminal and civil matters.
In criminal cases to apply for legal aid you must fill in an ‘Application for Legal Aid in Criminal Proceedings’ form which your solicitor will give you. If you do not fill in this form, you will not get legal aid. When you visit your solicitor, you should take evidence of your income with you.
If possible you must apply for legal aid before you attend court.
Am I eligible?
In Civil Cases
When assessing an individual’s eligibility to receive legal aid for civil matters the following will be used to decide eligibility:
- money left after your living expenses (your disposable income)
- money, investments or property you own and could use or sell to pay for legal help (your disposable capital)
In Criminal Cases
The government has re-introduced means testing for legal aid applications in criminal defence cases in the magistrates’ court. You will, therefore, need to go through a means test to determine whether you are eligible to receive legal aid. The means test in the magistrates’ court establishes whether an applicant is financially eligible for legal aid. Unlike with Civil Cases capital is not included; it only considers income and expenses.
Legal aid is a source of government funding available to people who otherwise would not be able to afford legal advice or a solicitor to represent them in court.
Applicants who are not eligible to receive legal aid and choose to fund their defence privately can apply to reclaim their costs if they are found not guilty. They should apply for these costs from Central Funds, a source of funding from the Ministry of Justice.
In the Crown Court the government has proposed to introduce a means testing scheme. The Government has stated that those who can afford to fund their defence against criminal charges should do so.
The proposed introduction of a contributory scheme in the Crown Court is part of a Ministry of Justice, Her Majesty’s Courts Service and Legal Services Commission (LSC) backed initiative. A consultation led by the Ministry of Justice and the LSC is underway. It is intended to support the move to a more efficient, effective and streamlined criminal justice system.
If you think you could be eligible for legal aid, you should speak to a legal adviser who deals with legal aid cases.