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