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At court

At court

If you have been charged with an offence and have to appear in court there are a few things you need to know.

You need a solicitor. They’re on your side and they will support you. Your solicitor will help you get evidence, call witnesses and their knowledge and experience will help build your defence.

It’s your right to be represented by a solicitor, however you plan to plead. Everyone qualifies for free legal advice at the police station but if your case goes to court, some people will have to pay.

Your solicitor can advise you and will help you apply for legal aid in court. You’ll need to provide your National Insurance Number, evidence of your income (including benefits) and your essential living costs.

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There are two types of court - legal aid is slightly different in each:

In the magistrates’ court

If your case is heard in a magistrates’ court you may qualify for free legal representation. It depends on your age, your income, your family circumstances and the type of case. The most minor cases don’t usually qualify.

You get free legal representation if you’re:

  • under 18;
  • on income support or some other benefits.

Speak to court staff or speak to the court’s duty solicitor to find out if you qualify.

In the Crown Court

The system is changing. Currently legal aid covers the cost of the defence for almost all cases heard in the Crown Court.

From January 2010 a new system is being introduced – everyone will continue to get legal aid representation, but those who can afford it will pay towards their defence costs.

About one person in four will have to pay something.

You don’t have to pay if you’re:

  • under 18;
  • on income support or some other benefits.

At the end of the case, if you are found not guilty, any contributions you have paid will be refunded with interest.

If you are found guilty and you own more than £30,000 of capital or savings, you may also have to contribute towards your defence costs from this.

You need to complete a legal aid application to find out if you have to pay. Your solicitor will help and advise you.

When is the new Crown Court scheme starting?

The first Crown Courts to adopt the new payment scheme in January 2010 are:

  • Blackfriars
  • Swansea
  • Preston
  • Bradford
  • Norwich

Other Crown Courts in England and Wales will follow from April to June 2010.

Please download our pocket guide for defendants (link opens in a new window), which explains means testing in the courts.

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