Facing a legal problem can be a difficult time and concerns over paying for legal advice can compound your worries. Whether you’re facing a criminal or civil case, there are options for free or cheaper legal help.
One such option is legal aid, which has been around since World War II, and serves to give fair access to the legal system to people who may not have been able to afford legal representation or advice, otherwise. Since its inception, legal aid has offered a lifeline to people across several areas, including family law, employment, housing, immigration, mental health, and criminal allegations.
But just what is legal aid and who can get it?
What is legal aid?
Legal aid is funded by the HM Treasury to provide legal representation to people who cannot otherwise afford to engage a solicitor. In England and Wales, legal aid is administered by the Legal Aid Agency, which is part of the Ministry of Justice.
There are two types of legal aid available:
- Criminal Cases: where you’ve been accused of a crime and may go to jail and
- Civil Cases: usually a private dispute or an issue against local government or service
Through legal aid, you may be able to obtain legal advice for free or at a reduced cost.
Who is eligible for legal aid?
Two factors are considered when determining if you’re eligible for legal aid:
- Your financial situation and
- The type of case.
Legal aid is in place to help those on low incomes to access the legal system. Means-testing is applied to determine if you’re financially eligible for legal aid. Consideration is given to your income, your family circumstances (such as your number of dependents), and your living costs.
While legal aid is broadly available for both criminal and civil cases, it’s not available in every situation. For example, you’re not eligible for legal aid if you’re making a personal injury claim (although you can in certain types of clinical negligence case where an injury at birth has been sustained).
The 2 types of legal aid
Civil law cases cover a wide range of issues, spanning many different areas of law. Some examples of civil cases where legal aid may be available include:
- You’re about to be made homeless.
- You’re at risk of domestic violence.
- You’re about to be deported or
- You’re in need of family mediation.
To qualify for legal aid, you’ll usually need to show that your case is eligible for legal aid, your problem is serious, and you can’t afford to pay for the legal costs.
In some civil cases, legal aid is not means-tested. This is particularly true for cases involving care or the Mental Health Tribunal.
If you’ve been arrested and taken to a police station, legal advice is free while you’re in the station. You can ask the police to call for the duty solicitor or a named solicitor of your choosing if you prefer.
However, once you’ve left the police station, your entitlement to legal aid will be means-tested. As not everyone is eligible for criminal legal aid, you may find you have to pay all your legal costs or contribute towards them.
Is legal aid an option for personal injury claimants?
No, legal aid for personal injury claims was abolished by the UK government in 2000. Legal aid for personal injury claimants has been replaced by Conditional Fee Agreements (CFAs), which are more commonly known as “no win, no fee” agreements. In clinical negligence cases involving birthing injuries, legal aid is still, however, a valid funding option for Claimants.
Under a “no win, no fee” agreement, you’ll only pay a legal fee if your claim is successful. In this way, you’re able to make a compensation claim for an injury sustained through an accident that was not your fault, no matter your income.
Are conditional agreements an alternative to legal aid?
Conditional Fee Agreements (CFAs) provide claimants with an affordable way to seek legal representation for personal injury claims. Thus, everyone has the means to seek recompense in the event of an injury that wasn’t their fault. While CFAs are commonplace in personal injury claims, they can also be used as an alternative to legal aid in other civil cases, such as professional negligence claims.
Under a CFA, or “no win, no fee” arrangement, you’ll pay a success fee if you win your case. The success fee is usually expressed as a percentage of certain parts of your compensation, capped at 25% by the Ministry of Justice.
If your claim is unsuccessful, you won’t normally need to pay the success fee, but you’ll still be liable to pay the other side’s legal fees, costs, and disbursements, plus any expenses incurred by your solicitor, such as the cost of medical reports. While your solicitor will take out an After the Event (ATE) insurance policy to protect you against this potential liability, it’s important to read the fine print and make sure you understand your liabilities before instructing your solicitor.
If you’re not eligible for legal aid, there are several other options that can help you to access more affordable legal advice, depending on the nature of your problem:
- Some solicitors offer 30 minutes’ free legal advice or a fixed fee appointment.
- Your trade union or other membership organisation.
- Legal advice included in your insurance policy or
- Advice charities.
How to find a legal aid solicitor
For civil cases, you can find a legal aid solicitor via the UK government’s website or the Law Society. Your local Citizens Advice may also be able to point you in the right direction.
If you’re facing a criminal case, you’ll need to speak with your solicitor or barrister to find out if you’re eligible for legal aid.
Contact Waldrons solicitors
Whatever your query, get in touch with us here at Waldrons today.
Last reviewed on 11/07/23 by Luke Boxall who is a Solicitor and Director