All legal aid, except for advice and assistance at the police station is means tested. If you are in receipt of certain benefits you may qualify for a Representation Order.
The means test process determines if a client qualifies for legal aid to cover some or all of their defence costs. It takes into account:
- family circumstances, eg number of children
- essential living costs, eg mortgage or rent
Eligibility also depends on the type of case and where it’s heard.
If an applicant fails the means test but believes that paying for their legal costs would cause financial hardship, they can ask for a review of their additional expenses (not yet taken into account).
All clients must also pass the Interests of Justice test (IoJ) to qualify for legal aid.
Merits: interests of justice
IoJ considers the merits of the case – eg a person’s previous convictions, the nature of the offence and the risk of custody – to determine if an applicant qualifies for legal aid. The more serious the charge or possible consequences for your client, the more likely that their case will qualify for legal aid.
The ‘interests of justice test’ determines whether you are entitled to legal aid based on merits. As part of the test your solicitor must consider the ‘Widgery criteria’ and decide which of the following applies to your case:
– It’s likely I’ll lose my liberty
– I’ve been given a sentence that’s suspended or non-custodial: if I break this, the court may be able to deal with me for the original offence
– it’s likely that I’ll lose my livelihood
– it’s likely that I’ll suffer serious damage to my reputation
– a substantial question of law may be involved
– I may not be able to understand the court proceedings or present my own case
– I may need witnesses to be traced or interviewed on my behalf
– the proceedings may involve expert cross-examination of a prosecution witness
– it’s in the interests of another person that I’m represented
– any other reasons