We have all seen American legal dramas and shows where they make it clear that anyone facing charges is entitled to legal representation in the courtroom. Even if they cannot afford it themselves, they will find a lawyer helping them out pro bono (for free) and this allows them to try to fight whatever claim has been made against them fairly. Is it the same situation here in the UK? Let’s take a look.
Lawyers in the UK can represent you in either the civil court or the criminal court so we shall look at both. While the UK does not have a pro bono system like the Americans do, there is a system of legal aid to help those who might not be able to afford lawyer’s fees.
When it comes to cases in the civil court, you can apply for legal aid if you can provide evidence that you cannot afford legal support by your own means. This means that you can seek help to pay some or all of your legal costs if you are unable to do so yourself. You will quite often have to provide evidence of your household income. If you are under the age of sixteen, you are automatically eligible for legal aid for representation in the courts.
Cases in the criminal court run a little differently. You are not entitled to free representation in the court but once again you are able to apply for legal aid to help you recuperate some of the costs of hiring a lawyer.
There are a number of different reasons why criminal legal aid might be applied to you. However, you are most likely to earn some sort of aid if you are likely to go to prison if convicted, you are likely to lose your job if convicted, or you are about to be charged with something which is likely to necessitate a trial with a jury. You are then likely left to find your own legal counsel; whether you are appearing at your local court or you require representation at Crown Court for a more serious offence.
One of the exceptions to the rules listed above is if you find yourself in police custody. If you are questioned at a police station, you have the right to free legal advice from a lawyer regardless of your financial status. This can either be over the phone or in person. You also have the right to have a lawyer present in the room during your questioning. Know your rights when you are under arrest.
It is extremely important that you always know exactly when and where you are entitled to legal aid. Do not be afraid to reach out to organisations like the Citizens Advice Bureau if you think that you need some extra help. The legal system can appear confusing to those who do not know its intricacies but you will be able to navigate with knowledge of a few simple matters such as this.