For a defendant to be eligible for legal aid, which is free representation, they will need to pass the means and interests of justice tests. Legal aid is a fund provided by the government for those who cannot afford legal advice or a solicitor to represent them in court. The tests apply to defendants who are being held in custody and are awaiting trial for criminal defence cases in the magistrates’ courts and higher. It allows people who cannot afford to pay for legal representation to be able to pay for it. This saves at least 35million per year on legal funding ever since it was introduced.
The Legal Services Commission is the governing body that grants the legal aid to applicants, granting representation orders in the magistrates to Her Majesty’s Courts Service. Applicants who do not pass the means test, meaning they are not entitled to legal aid in the magistrates court, can choose to fund their defence privately. They can then apply to reclaim their costs if they are then found to be not guilty. These costs can be recovered from central funds which is a further source from the Ministry of Justice.
The way of determining whether a defendant is entitled to this aid is by using a financial eligibility calculator. This works out whether the applicant will be likely to pass or fail the test for legal aid in the magistrates court or pay a contribution if their case goes on to the Crown Court. The calculator will give a legal practitioner a good idea of whether the defendant is likely to be entitled to legal aid before the test is carried out at court.
When the test is carried out in the magistrates court, aid is only granted to a defendant who has passed the Interests of Justice test and does not have the financial means to fund their legal representation in the magistrates court. The financial means is the means test which establishes whether the defendant is financially able to fund their case. The means test will take into account income and expenses but not capital. Passported applicants will automatically pass the means test but will still need to pass the interests of justice test before they are entitled to legal aid. The means test establishes the applicant’s income and how it is distributed between any partners and children. If the applicant’s income is more than 12,475 and less than 22,325 then a full means test is carried out. This test works by looking at the defendant’s disposable income after deducting tax, maintenance and other annual costs from their gross annual income.
Toronto divorce lawyer Steven Benmor discusses the family law question “What are legal aid services ?” Steven Benmor practices Family Law in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Visit Steven Benmor’s online Family Law Resource Center for concise answers to many more frequently asked Family law questions, feature articles on Family law topics, dozens of links to other Family law websites, and more at www.benmor.com The information in this video is for discussion purposes only. It is by no means legal advice or even a statement of the law on this subject. Please do not rely on the accuracy or completeness of this information. Any question or concern elicited by the information in this video should be taken to a lawyer who will consider the facts of each case and the legal remedies available. ‘First Take Live’ video clips courtesy of Dan Carter Productions. Original Broadcast: 19-Mar-2008