Legal Aid is available when fighting both non-criminal and criminal cases in court and comes with strict eligibility criteria. If you qualify for Legal Aid, they will assist you in matters regarding debt, housing issues, family issues, as well as criminal charges. How much you pay for this service depends on a number of criteria.
Legal Aid and Civil Cases
To be eligible for legal Aid on civil cases, you need to meet the eligibility criteria. This criteria usually involves an income test and requires the issue being addressed in court to be serious.
To prove you are eligible for Legal Aid, you will likely need to supply evidence of:
- Your total income
- Benefits you are receiving
- Your savings
- How much property you own
- How much money your partner makes.
- If you are still under the age of 18, you might need to provide your parent/guardian’s income.
However, financial income is not part of the eligibility criteria if the civil case you are facing involves:
- The Mental Health Tribunal
- Children in care
- Child abductions
The final piece of evidence you may need to provide is proof of the issue. For example, if you are part of a divorce settlement with elements of abuse, you may need a letter from your GP or other health care provider supporting the claim that you are a domestic abuse victim.
Legal Aid in Criminal Cases
- If you are apprehended by the police and taken to the police station for questioning, you have the right to free legal advice by law. This means that you have the right to talk to a legal aid representative. This free legal advice is usually provided by the ‘duty solicitor’ at the police station, who is available 24 hours a day.
- You can also tell the police that you would really like the legal advice, and they will then contact the Defence Solicitor Call centre on your behalf.
- You can request the police reach out to your own solicitor.
- If you are involved in a serious criminal case, police may withhold the right to your solicitor for a maximum of 36 hours. However, that must be approved by a senior officer at the station.
- The eligibility criteria for criminal cases are the same as eligibility for civil cases with two exceptions:
- You are under 16. You are automatically eligible for legal representation if you are under 16 years of age.
- You are under 18 and in full-time education (or on specific benefits)
You can check your eligibility for legal aid here.
Cost of Legal Aid
If you are eligible for Legal Aid for a civil case, legal Aid may not cover the full cost of the proceedings. You may need to contribute:
- Upfront legal costs
- Some of the costs of your case if you win property of money from your case
The exact amount of payment required varies from case to case, and your legal aid lawyer will discuss the payment terms with you.
If your financial circumstances change during the proceedings, you need to notify legal Aid immediately. For example, if you receive a large amount of money or property from an inheritance during the proceedings, Legal Aid must be advised. Likewise, if you start a new job on a much higher income, you need to let legal Aid know.
When your financial circumstances change part way through a case, you may need to start making monthly payments towards your legal fees or pay an upfront cost,
If you fail to inform legal Aid of additional income, you may lose your legal aid support and be required to repay the FULL amount of your legal proceedings.
In some cases, the court may order your legal opponent to pay the cost of the court proceedings. If this is the case, you will not need to pay your legal fees. You will need to repay your legal aid costs if you win and are awarded a financial or property settlement and the court does not order your opponent to pay the fees. Depending on each case, this can be done in instalments or a lump sum. Your legal aid lawyer will walk you through the process and options.
It is important to know that Legal Aid does charge interest on all debts. The interest rate at the time of writing is 8%, charged daily for all debts. So it is essential to ensure that you pay your Legal Aid debts on time.