The rules for legal aid providers, including the interests of justice and means tests, relevant legislation, and making an application.
Applies to England and Wales
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 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 – for example, 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 (Crown Court trials are deemed to automatically satisfy this test).
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 the Legal Aid Agency 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.
Applications to appeal grant of legal aid refused on interests of justice criteria, including any new information you would like considered, should be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org and we will consider the appeal administratively within 2 working days.
For Appeal to Crown Court cases, the LAA will put the IoJ appeal before the court to review, and then notify you of the court’s decision
For other cases, the LAA will make an administrative decision and notify you. If you are still not satisfied with the decision you can ask LAA to put before the court to review.
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 and equity
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 will not be eligible for legal aid in a Crown Court trial. If their disposable income is above £3,398 but less than £37,500, they’ll have to make an income contribution towards their costs. If your client has above £30,000 in capital and equity and is convicted they may have to contribute towards any remaining balance against their final defence costs.
Further criminal legal aid regulations and orders
Make an application
Tables of delegated authorities
Civil legal aid
Legal aid is also available for the representation of civil matters (covering disputes with another person, company or organisation).