Crown Court Legal Aid – January Changes
Currently, to be eligible for legal aid in the Magistrates Court there are two tests that need to be passed. First is the interests of justice test. This is that it must be in the interests of justice that you are able to get legal aid to be represented by a Solicitor in Court. This includes things such as a loss of your liberty or that there may be complex witness cross examination that you may not be able to carry out yourself without the aid of a solicitor. The second test is a means test. This is based on your income, outgoings and how much capital you have. If you earn over £12,475 a year you will not be eligible for legal aid in a Magistrates Court.
Currently, all cases that go to the Crown Court are given legal aid automatically. The interests of justice test is always passed due to the serious nature of charges that reach the Crown Court. There is no prescribed means test but if you earn over a certain amount, approximately £15,000, you will be asked to make a contribution towards your legal aid, which is recoverable if you are found Not Guilty.
This is all due to change for any legal aid applications dated on or after the 27th January 2014. The interests of justice test will remain the same but there will also be a means test applied to cases that are heard in the Crown Court, it will now reflect the way that legal aid is granted in Magistrates Courts. The change was introduced following the consultation in April 2013 (Transforming Legal Aid: delivering a more credible and efficient system) and the September response paper (Transforming Legal Aid: Next Steps)
The means test for the Crown Court will be that anybody that is assessed as having an annual household disposable income over £37,000 will no longer qualify for legal aid. If your annual disposable income is below £37,000 then you will be eligible for legal aid but the current regime which may involve a contribution being made still applies.
When assessing a person’s annual household disposable income the Legal Aid Agency can take into account the costs of privately paying for legal advice but this will not be taken into account when assessing contributions.
The process for applying for legal aid, i.e. filling in the CRM14 and CRM15 form still remains the same. Also, if a person’s financial circumstances change they are still required to notify the Legal Aid Agency. Once legal aid has been granted the Legal Aid Agency will not withdraw legal aid but can alter the amount paid in contributions.
Should you or anyone you know be facing charges before the Crown Court and need help then please contact our Crime Department at our Leicester office on 0116 2554855 or our Loughborough Office on 01509 610312.