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Legal aid eligibility – what, when and how

Legal aid eligibility – what, when and how

Legal aid eligibility has been in the news again, firstly following the application for legal aid by ‘ISIS bride’ Shamima Begum, which led to much debate about legal aid eligibility. Additionally, the Law Society reported recently that, in respect of housing issues, over half the population lives in a local authority that has just one or no housing legal aid provider.

What is legal aid?

Legal aid is public money paid to help meet the costs of certain legal advice, family mediations and representation in a court or tribunal. It aims to ensure that all people have access to justice regardless of the ability to pay. Thus, it is a safety net for those that cannot afford to defend themselves. It is available for both criminal and civil cases.

Wells Burcombe’s experienced criminal and family lawyers can help you determine if you are eligible to apply for legal aid funding and, where appropriate, will assist you in making an application for legal aid.

Legal aid eligibility

Whether you qualify for legal aid depends on the type of case and your financial circumstances. The type of cases in which you may be eligible for legal aid funding include:

  • You or your children are at risk of domestic violence or forced marriage
  • You’re at risk of being made homeless
  • You have been accused of a crime and face prison or detention
  • You’re being discriminated against
  • You need family mediation
  • You’re taking a case to court under the Human Rights Act

Suspects under arrest at a police station are automatically entitled to free legal advice from a criminal defence lawyer.

Reduction in legal aid funding

In 2013, the government cut many areas of civil law from the scope of legal aid, through the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act (LASPO), Legal aid fees for practitioners have not increased in 20 years, forcing many of them to withdraw from the market.

The Ministry of Justice has recently completed a 290-page review of the impact of LASPO, which it is hoped will lead to positive changes.

Christina Blacklaws, president of the Law Society, commented:

“The government must ensure everyone who has a right to state-funded legal advice can actually get it when they so desperately need it. Legal rights are meaningless if people can’t enforce them.”

Means testing for legal aid

The Legal Aid Agency assesses whether or not you are financially eligible for legal aid. They will take into account your income, living expenses and whether you are financially supporting any children before deciding if you are eligible for any legal aid funding. The Law Society reported in 2019 that the current means-test thresholds are ‘preventing families in poverty from accessing justice.’

A review of legal aid by the Ministry of Justice, acknowledged the need for changes in relation to means testing, exceptional case funding and early legal advice.’

Merits testing for legal aid

If your legal case is within an eligible category, this does not mean that legal aid to cover all the costs will be granted. Initial advice and assistance may be provided under the Legal Help scheme, but only those cases which meet the merits criteria will be granted a legal aid certificate. The merits criteria are different for each category of case but usually include looking at:

  • Whether the case is likely to be successful
  • Whether the likely outcome is proportionate to the cost of bringing the case
  • Whether the case has wider public interest

Additionally, you may have to pay some of the costs up front. You may also have to pay back costs if convicted, or if you win property or money from your case.

How to apply for legal aid

Our lawyers will help you determine if you may be eligible to apply for funding and provide assistance with completing the necessary application form.

Please contact us to discuss legal aid funding at our London office in West Drayton on 01895 449288, or our Hertfordshire office in St Albans on 01727 840900, or fill in our enquiry form.

If you have been refused legal aid funding, call us to discuss the funding options that may be suitable for your case.

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