Your freedom is our business
Everyone deserves the opportunity of high quality legal advice, especially when facing criminal prosecution that could result in a prison sentence and the loss of liberty. For some cases, if you cannot afford your own legal fees, you may be able to get criminal legal aid to cover some or all of your costs.
At Renshaw Derrick, we are expert criminal defence solicitors who specialise in helping individuals across Bournemouth, Poole and the wider Dorset area.
Although criminal legal aid has become increasingly limited in recent years, it is still available for some matters. We can provide advice about your eligibility for legal aid and what services we can offer using legal aid funding.
We have received the Law Society Criminal Litigation Accreditation for our skills defending individuals against a wide range of criminal offences, from assault, to domestic violence offences, to murder.
If you have been arrested or invited to the police station for a voluntary interview under caution, remember that you are always entitled to free legal advice while at the police station. It is important not to answer the police’s questions about an offence until one of our police station representatives are by your side to support and advise you.
Get in touch with our criminal legal aid solicitors in Bournemouth, Dorset
What is legal aid?
Legal aid is a type of public funding that can cover some or all of your legal fees. It is usually available if you have a serious legal problem but cannot afford to pay yourself. Legal aid is also available to everyone (regardless of financial circumstances) for:
- Advice and representation at the police station, whether you are under arrest or have been invited for a voluntary interview
- Advice and representation by a court duty solicitor at hearings
- Representation for applications for Warrants of Further Detention (applications to keep you in police custody for more than 24 or 36 hours)
Criminal legal aid is sometimes available for Magistrates Court and Crown Court proceedings if certain requirements are met. Some cases that happen in civil court venues may also be deemed criminal for the purposes of legal aid, for example, Domestic Violence Protection Notice and Order proceedings.
Most people need to go through a means test to check whether they can afford to pay their own legal fees of not. If your income is lower than £12,475 per year, you are on certain state benefits or you are under 18 years old, you will typically be eligible for legal aid without having to go through a means test (this is called ‘passporting’).
You must also pass the ‘Interests of Justice’ test. If you pass this and the means test (if you need to take one), a Representation Order will be made to finance your court proceedings.
The Order will only cover certain services, so your solicitor will provide advice about what your legal aid does and does not cover.
Legal Aid means test
There are several levels to the means test to check whether you cannot afford to pay your legal fees.
Initial means test
The initial means test takes your income (before tax or national insurance) and adjusts it to take into account how many family members you have and your children’s ages. The result is called your ‘adjusted annual income’.
If your income is £12,475 or less, you will be funded in the Magistrates’ Court, Crown Court and for appeals to the Crown Court.
If your income is between £12,475 and £22,325, you may be funded depending on the outcome of a full means test.
If your income is over £22,325, you will not be funded in the Magistrates Court. You may be funded in the Crown Court depending on the full means test, but you may also be required to make contributions.
Full means test
The full means test works out your disposable income by taking your gross annual income (not your adjusted annual income) and deducting your living costs. You are also allowed a living allowance for things like food, clothing and fuel which is also deducted from your gross annual income – for a single person, this allowance is £5,676.
If the resulting disposable income is £3,398 or less, you can receive funding in the Magistrates’ Court, Crown Court and for appeals to the Crown Court.
If your disposable income is more than £3,398, you can only receive funding in the Crown Court and you will typically be required to make financial contributions to the proceedings. You can usually get these contributions back with interest if you are found not guilty.
If your disposable income is over £37,500, you will not be funded in the Crown Court.
Complex means test
Only a few people need to take this type of means test, for example, if you are self-employed, a company director, you are in the armed forces, or you are subject to a Restraint Order or a Freezing Order.
If your application for legal aid is rejected, you may be able to request a review on the grounds of hardship. For example, if your disposable income is higher than the accepted threshold or you are subject to an Income Contribution Order in the Crown Court but feel their means test did not reflect your true financial position.
Interest of Justice test
The Interests of Justice (IoJ) test looks at the merits of your case to decide whether it is serious enough to qualify for legal aid. The criteria that must be considered are:
- You’re likely to lose your liberty
- You’re likely to lose your livelihood
- You’ve been given a suspended or non-custodial sentence which, if you breach, you could be dealt with for the original offence
- You’re likely to suffer severe damage to your reputation
- There is a substantial question of law involved in your case
- You do not understand the court proceedings and/or are unable to represent yourself
- You need witnesses who may need to be traced to interviewed
- The proceedings may require expert cross examination
- It’s in someone else’s interests that you be represented
- Any other reasons