More often than not, people will find themselves in legal situations where they may require the advice or representation of a solicitor. However, not all individuals will have the financial capabilities to pay for these services. If this is the case, it is possible to receive help from the government in the form of financial support called legal aid, which will contribute towards the rates or fixed fees of a solicitor.
Legal aid can be paid through three different schemes:
- Advice and Assistance
- Civil Legal Aid
- Criminal Legal Aid
Each scheme has various requirements; however, your solicitor will be aware of these and will be able to advise on your eligibility to receive legal aid.
Advice and Assistance
This form of legal aid provides support when paying for advice from a solicitor regarding any part of Northern Irish law such as attempting to settle a dispute without going to court. It may also provide financial support when it is required that a solicitor represents their client in court. This is also known as ABWOR (assistance by way of representation).
Advice and assistance covers various matters including:
- Employment Matters
- Housing Issues
- Disputes over Children
Depending on your financial circumstances, you may be required to contribute towards the total cost of your advice and assistance. Upon review of your situation, your solicitor will decide if you meet the financial eligibility requirements of the scheme.
Civil Legal Aid
This scheme allows people to obtain legal advice and representation in civil cases and may provide funding for your solicitor to put your case to the court. It also covers aspects such as preparation work, the hearing and providing funding to barristers.
Civil legal aid covers matters including:
- Situations affecting family & children
- Compensation for injuries
While advice and assistance claims are decided by your solicitor, civil legal aid is granted by the Legal Services Agency [https://www.justice-ni.gov.uk/topics/legal-aid] who use a financial eligibility test to determine your entitlement.
Criminal Legal Aid
The final scheme is criminal legal aid which assists those who have been charged with a criminal offence and provides legal advice and representation is available to those who need it. It can also offer support if someone is under police investigation or facing criminal charges.
The granting of criminal legal aid is decided by the court and will depend on a means test (individual doesn’t have enough income to pay for their defence) or a merits test (in the interests of justice). However, if the person is being interviewed by the police in relation to criminal charges, they are entitled to free legal aid while they are in the police station; this is not means tested.
Before granting legal aid, the court will also consider several factors such as:
- The likelihood of imprisonment if found guilty
- Potential loss of livelihood if found guilty
- Question of law involved in the case
- Any earlier suspended sentences which may be activated if found guilty
Ultimately, all applications for legal aid should be made by a solicitor who can also advise if you are eligible once they understand the circumstances of the case. Contact H McPartland & Sons today in Lurgan or Lisburn to have a chat with a member of our experienced team for advice and support regarding your legal situation and entitlement to legal aid.