Guide to criminal proceedings & legal aid

The prosecution must prove the allegations against you beyond all reasonable doubt before you can be convicted by a court. A criminal defence solicitor will get information about your case by contacting the prosecution and investigators and review that evidence when it is received. They will give you advice on the evidence and the important features in your case throughout it. Decisions about your case will only be made by you once you are happy that you fully understand the case against you and the advice given.

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Pleading guilty or not guilty

You have the choice to admit or deny the allegations made against you. If you decide to admit the allegations you can plead guilty and the court will then decide what punishment you should receive. If you do not plead guilty, a trial will have to take place. 

A solicitor is required to explain that if you plead guilty at the earliest opportunity, any punishment will be reduced by up to a third. If you plead guilty at a late stage of the case, for example on the day of a trial, the reduction can be reduced to 10%. This is known as credit for a guilty plea. The credit is give to those who save time, expense and upset. However, it is important that anyone who is not guilty of an offence should plead 'not guilty.'

In some cases, the law can be complex and we may need to advise you whether you should be pleading guilty or not guilty.

At the Magistrates Court:

  • We will obtain a copy of the case summary or a copy of the evidence against you in the case. Often this is only available at the first hearing date
  • There should be enough time for us to discuss the evidence in private and decide what to do
  • It will be explained to you where your case may be dealt with - that is in the Magistrates or Crown Court 
  • If you are able to plead guilty in the Magistrates Court, the court have a number of choices. They could;
    • Sentence you immediately without a pre-sentence report
    • Ask the Probation Service to interview you and prepare a pre-sentence report that the magistrates will read before sentencing you. This may be done the same day or your case could be adjourned to another date to allow this to happen.
    • Send your case to the Crown Court for sentence.
  • If you plead not guilty there will have to be a trial. Some trials can only take place in the Magistrates Court, some only in the Crown Court and others where there is a choice. Once it is decided where your trial is to take place, steps will be taken to work towards a trial date. In the Magistrates Court, cases are decided by District Judges (a professional judge) or Justices of Peace (lay members of the public who have volunteered to be and trained as magistrates)

At the Crown Court

  • Some cases can only be dealt with by the Crown Court. Other cases may have been sent from the Magistrates Court or you may have chosen to have your case dealt with by the Crown Court
  • At Crown Court hearings you will usually be advised and represented by a barrister or higher court solicitor advocate
  • If you are committed to the Crown Court for sentence following a guilty plea in the Magistrates Court it is likely that the probation service will prepare a pre-sentence report before your Crown Court hearing. You must fully co-operate with the preparation of this report
  • For cases heading for trial in the Crown Court, the early hearings are used by the Judge to make directions that are aimed at ensuring your case is dealt with as quickly and fairly as possible. Trials take place before a Judge and a Jury

 

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Appealing against the court’s decision

At the conclusion of your case we can provide you with advice about appealing a decision if you require it. If you want to appeal against a conviction or sentence then you must do so in writing and there are strict time limits for doing so. There is a 21 day time limit for appealing against a Magistrates Court decision and 28 days for appealing against a Crown Court decision.

Do you have to pay for your case in the Magistrates Court?

We will apply for legal aid to cover your case in the Magistrates Court, and ask you to complete the application forms. The decision to award legal aid is made on the basis of both the details of your case (called the Interests of Justice Test) and the financial information you provide (called the Means Test). It is therefore very important that you complete the forms accurately and (where necessary) send evidence to support the information you provide. If you do not tell the truth on your legal aid application about your income, assets and expenditure you could be prosecuted.

If you are under 18 or on certain benefits you do not need to pay for the work we do for you in the Magistrates Court. These benefits are Income Support, Income-Based Job Seeker's Allowance, Universal Credit, Guaranteed State Pension Credit and Income-related Employment and Support Allowance. You need to provide your National Insurance Number so that the benefit can be checked.

In all other circumstances your finances will be assessed to decide whether you are eligible for legal aid. Your annual household income and family circumstances will be taken into account and then:

  • If your annual household income is £12,475 or less you get free legal aid
  • If it is £22,325 or more you are not eligible for legal aid

The assessment of your income makes an allowance for a partner or any children that you have living with you so it is important that you include details of these on the form.

If your annual household income is more than £12,475 but less than £22,325 then the Legal Aid Agency will look at your disposable income. This is the money you’re left with after you’ve paid your main bills. A standard amount is allowed for some bills such as gas, electricity and insurance, and there is an allowance for a partner and/or any children. If you’re left with:

  • £3,398 or less a year (£283.17 or less a month) you get free legal aid
  • More than £3,398 a year (£283.17 a month) you are not eligible to receive legal aid

If you don’t think you can afford to pay privately, or you think that a mistake has been made, you can ask for a review of your legal aid assessment.

Do you have to pay for your case in the Crown Court?

If your case is heard in the Crown Court your financial situation will be assessed with one of the following outcomes:

  • You don’t have to pay for the work that we do for you because you have been awarded legal aid to cover all your costs
  • You have to pay a contribution towards our costs because you can afford to pay from your income, capital or both
  • You have to pay privately for all the work that we do for you.

You will be asked to provide evidence of your income and assets. If you do not provide this evidence, your payments could be increased. If you do not tell the truth on your legal aid application about your income, assets and expenditure you could be prosecuted.

You will not have to pay towards the costs of your case if you are under 18 when you make your application or if you receive any of the following benefits: Income Support, Income-Based Job Seeker's Allowance, Universal Credit, Guaranteed State Pension Credit and Income-related Employment and Support Allowance.

If your annual household disposable income is £37,500 or more (the money you’re left with after you’ve paid your main bills, and taking into account your family circumstances, such as a partner and/or any children) then you will not be eligible for legal aid and you will have to pay privately for any work that we do for you.

You will have to pay a contribution towards the costs if your annual disposable income is above £3,398. A standard amount is allowed for some bills such as gas, electricity and insurance, and there is an allowance for a partner and/or any children. Where you are required to pay towards your legal costs, you will receive a Contribution Order from the court giving details of how much you must pay, and how to make the payments. The first payment will be due within 28 days of your case being committed, sent or transferred for trial. The payments will be collected by a private company on behalf of the Legal Aid Agency, and they will also write to you. You must tell the court about any changes to your financial circumstances during your case because a change may affect the amount you have to pay towards your defence costs. If you don’t think you can afford to pay or you think that a mistake has been made, you can ask for a review of the amount the court has told you to pay.

At the end of the case, if you are found not guilty, any payments you have made will be refunded with interest. If you paid late or not at all and action was taken against you, the costs of this action will be deducted from the refund.

If you are found guilty, you may also have to pay towards your defence costs from any capital assets you may have. This would only apply if:

  • You have £30,000 or more of assets, for example: savings, equity in property (including your home), shares or Premium Bonds; and
  • Any payments you have already made have not covered your total defence costs 

You will be told at the end of your case by the Legal Aid Agency if you have to make a payment from capital. The Collection and Enforcement Agency for the Legal Aid Agency will notify you of the amount you owe once your legal costs have been finalised. This may be several months after your case is finished.

If you are facing criminal prosecution our team of specialist solicitors can advise and assist, call us on 0203 816 1098 or complete our online enquiry form and we will contact you directly to discuss your situation. 

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