Legal aid – guidance

Work out who qualifies for criminal legal aid

The rules for legal aid providers, including the interests of justice and means tests, relevant legislation, and making an application.

Overview

The rules about who qualifies for legal aid are set out in Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LASPO).

For procedures in checking eligibility for criminal legal aid, read Criminal Legal Aid (General) Regulations 2013.

The Legal Aid Agency (LAA) criminal legal aid manual (PDF, 2.82MB, 249 pages) sets out who qualifies for legal aid.

To determine whether someone qualifies for criminal legal aid you need to consider:

  • merits – the interests of justice test (IoJ)
  • means – financial eligibility of your client

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.

Widgery criteria

The interests of justice test determines whether a client is entitled to legal aid based on merits. As part of the test you must consider the ‘Widgery critera’ and decide which of the following applies to your client’s 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

Find out how a court makes a determination on an application for criminal legal aid in the Criminal Legal Aid (Determinations by the Court and Choice of Representative) Regulations 2013.

Make an appeal

Your client’s case may not meet the IoJ test.

You or your client can make an appeal if you feel the decision is incorrect.

The process for that depends on whether the decision was made by the courts or LAA:

  • if the decision was made by LAA, return the application to the LAA, including any new information you’d like considered. LAA will review the decision and, where it decides the original refusal still stands, it will refer the case to the court where the case is listed

  • if the decision was made by the court, return the application to the court, including any new information for court staff to consider or write a letter to the court to request an appeal

In both instances the appeal will be heard within 24 hours of submission to the court. Magistrates decide if an application will be granted on appeal.

Means

Your client must be financially eligible to qualify for legal aid as set out in The Criminal Legal Aid (Financial Resources) Regulations 2013.

Means testing considers your client’s financial position based on:

  • household income
  • capital
  • outgoings

Read further guidance and use the criminal legal aid eligibility calculator.

Crown Court trial

The means test also determines if your client will be liable for any defence costs if they’re appearing in a Crown Court.

If your client has an annual household disposable income of £37,500 or more they won’t be eligible for legal aid in a Crown Court trial. If their disposable is above £3,398 but less than £37,500, they’ll have to make a contribution to costs.

Title Purpose
The Civil and Criminal Legal Aid (Financial Resources and Payment for Services) (Legal Persons) Regulations 2013 Sets out capital and income tests required for legal persons to qualify for criminal or civil legal aid.
The Criminal Legal Aid (Remuneration) Regulations 2013 Sets out remuneration payable to solicitors and advocates.
Criminal Legal Aid (Contribution Orders) Regulations 2013 Sets out means testing for criminal cases in the Crown court. Includes provisions on recovery of contributions.
The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (Consequential, Transitional and Saving Provisions) Regulations 2013 Makes required changes to other legislation. Sets out how the LAA treats work started pre-commencement.
The Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (Consequential, Transitional and Saving Provisions) (Amendment) Regulations 2013 Adds transitional arrangements for civil cost procedures in legally aided cases.
The Legal Aid (Disclosure of Information) Regulations 2013 Allows providers to disclose certain information to the LAA.

Make an application

Read detailed guidance on how to apply for criminal legal aid or go straight to the eligibility testing forms (eg, the application for legal aid and financial statement forms).

Tables of delegated authorities

Criminal Legal Aid (Contribution Orders) Regulations 2013

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Criminal Legal Aid (Determination by the Court and Choice of Representation) Regulations 2013

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Criminal Legal Aid (Financial Resources) Regulations 2013

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Criminal Legal Aid (General) Regulations 2013

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Criminal Legal Aid (Recovery of Defence Cost Orders) Regulations 2013

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Criminal Legal Aid (Remuneration) Regulations 2013

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Criminal Legal Aid (Motor Vehicle Orders) Regulations 2013

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Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012

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Legal Aid (Disclosure of Information) Regulations 2013

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Legal Aid (Information about Financial Resources) Regulations 2013

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Legal Aid (Financial Resources and Payment for Services) (Legal Persons) Regulations 2013

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Legal aid is also available for the representation of civil matters (covering disputes with another person, company or organisation).