We have a franchise with the Legal Aid Agency ("LAA") to represent clients in criminal matters on a publicly funded basis. This information sheet provides details as to our services and the criminal justice and legal aid systems in England and Wales.
Police Station advice
When a person is detained in a police station and suspected of an offence, he or she is entitled to free legal advice. There is no means test and there are no forms to complete to obtain this assistance but it has to be requested by the suspect. The advice can be provided over the telephone or given face to face and the solicitor’s fees are paid by the LSC.
Percy Short & Cuthbert operates a 24 hour service to provide Police Station advice which can be obtained by telephoning :
Police Station Duty Solicitor
Where a suspect detained in a police station does not know the name of a solicitor after having asked to speak to one, the Custody Officer must call for a Duty Solicitor to represent the suspect. Duty Solicitors are local solicitors who operate on a rota to represent suspects in police stations, either by providing telephone advice and/or attending the police station. A Duty Solicitor is available on a 24 hour basis, 365 days of the year. The advice and assistance is free and paid for by the LSC. Percy Short & Cuthbert's Duty Solicitor on the rota scheme is John Selby.
Court Duty Solicitor scheme
The Duty Solicitor is obliged, on request, to represent all those persons who appear for the first time on an imprisonable offence in the Magistrates Court, either on bail or in custody. If a person appears for a second occasion or has already consulted a solicitor, the scheme does not apply unless the Court directs the Duty Solicitor to represent the person. The Court Duty Solicitor therefore represents a person appearing at Court on the first occasion but only continues to represent that person if he or she applies for a Representation Order in the Court Duty Solicitor's name. The fees are paid by the LSC.
Legal advice and assistance
This form of legal aid enables those who attend our office to qualify for publicly funded advice at our offices. However, it is means tested and to qualify you have to be in receipt of income support or on a very low income. This form of legal aid usually covers work not undertaken at the police station prior to a Representation Order being granted. It will not cover representation at Court but will cover attending a client to be interviewed at the Department for Work and Pensions offices or Housing Benefit offices for fraud.
Representation Order – Legal Aid in Magistrates & Crown Courts
A Representation Order covers legal aid initially at a Magistrates Court. Where a client has been charged with an offence, an application can be made before the first hearing or at the Court for a Representation Order. The application will be determined by the Legal Aid Department of the Magistrates Court on the basis of the merits of the case and your means. If granted before the hearing, then a solicitor or barrister will attend the Court hearing. The fees are covered by the Representation Order and paid by the LAA.
A Representation Order guarantees that clients will receive representation either by a solicitor or a barrister in court. Further, any fees that are needed to pay for specialists are covered by the Representation Order. It means that a client does not pay for representation but may, however, be ordered to pay part or all of the prosecution's costs (see below).
You will qualify automatically for Representation Order (subject to whether it is in the Interests of justice) if you are in receipt of Income Support or Jobseekers Allowance or if you are under 16 years of age or under 18 and still in full time education. You will qualify if your annual income is less than £11,590. If your annual income is less than £20,740 you still may qualify but subject to a detailed means enquiry.
The means test takes into account the number of children dependant on you and if you live with a partner. It will take into account all forms of income, your rental or mortgage payments and things such as travel costs to work. We will assess your position and assist you with completing the relevant forms.
To assist us you must have your National Insurance number available and be in a position to supply us with wage slips. In certain circumstances you may be asked to provide written proof of your tenancy agreement and mortgage payments. You may well be asked to provide us with proof that you are in receipt of benefits.
However, if you appear in the Magistrates Court and your matter is transferred to the Crown Court, there will be no means testing and legal aid will be granted automatically (this excludes the position where you have been committed for sentence). The application form has to be signed by you as the defendant in the case.
Similar arrangements exist for the operation of legal aid in the Youth Court. Youths are entitled to legal aid in Police Stations in the same manner as adults and the same rules relating to Court Duty Solicitors and advocacy assistance apply.
Criminal Defence contract
Percy Short & Cuthbert can only offer legal advice and representation in the Magistrates Court in criminal cases whilst we hold a contract with the LAA. Our fees are based on standard fees for three categories of case. However, fees are also assessed on an hourly basis and there are different rates for travel, preparation and attendance upon a client, waiting at Court and advocacy in Court. If our hourly fees exceed the standard fee, then a higher figure will be sought and if the case is such that the fees incurred exceed the Higher Standard Fees, then the bill is assessed directly by the LAA.
There are a number of routes in which a client can reach the Crown Court. Where the case is indictable only e.g. robbery, blackmail or murder, then there is usually only one appearance in the Magistrates Court. A Representation Order is granted in the Magistrates Court and this will be written to ensure it covers work in the Crown Court for all subsequent hearings. This Representation Order will cover the work of a solicitor and barrister, plus any fees for a specialist that may be required. However, with regard to specialists the permission of the LAA will often be sought before specialists are hired.
Where a client attends the Magistrates Court and the offence faced is triable both in the Magistrates Court and Crown Court and the client asks for the case to be tried in the Crown Court, then at a committal hearing in the Magistrates Court the Representation Order is extended to cover the hearings in the Crown Court in the same terms as indictable only cases. Further, where the Magistrates Court decides that it does not have sufficient power to sentence a client and the case is committed to the Crown Court for the Crown to consider a punishment, the Representation Order will be extended to cover appearances in the Crown Court in the same fashion.
In cases before the Crown Court a "Form B" has to be completed to provide details of your means as if you are found guilty, the Court will consider the issue of costs and whether you should contribute to the prosecution and defence fees. In the Crown Court our fees are paid by the Crown Court or National Taxing Teams. These are based on standard fees and if those standard fees are exceeded when the bill is assessed on an hourly basis, then the fees based on the hourly charges will be considered by the National Taxing Team.
In Magistrates Court and Crown Court cases the court can make a costs order against defendants to cover prosecution costs in certain situations e.g. following a guilty plea or conviction after a trial. It is also possible for the Crown Court to make a Defence Costs Order so that the defendant bears the whole or part of the costs of his own case, although this power is not often exercised. If this is the case you will receive no bill from this firm for criminal work unless you are privately represented outside the legal aid system.
Statutory guidelines now state that the Courts must give a discount for guilty pleas, generally of one third e.g. 2 years instead of 3 years or £200 instead of £300. However, the application of the discount depends on when the guilty plea is made.
Your obligations as a defendant
i. to obey your conditions of bail – you will be warned in Court that if you do not do so this could result in a criminal offence or bail being withdrawn; and
ii. to co-operate with and give instructions to us as your representatives. We, in turn, are obliged to inform the Court if we have not been fully instructed.
If you do not observe these conditions you could be liable to arrest and a period in custody. If you do not come to Court for a trial it could be heard in your absence and you would lose the opportunity to put your side of the case. The reason for this is to avoid wasting public money on defendants who do not appear at Court and then perhaps have to be remanded in custody.
The solicitor in charge of your case will be John Selby, assisted by Nicolette Nixon who is a paralegal. Both have over 30 years experience of criminal work. From time to time other solicitors, barristers or agents may deal with your case, although we make every effort to ensure continuity. For any queries either John or Nicolette are available during office hours and we run the normal out of hours emergency service for police station work.
[Information correct as at December 2011]