Defendants (criminal proceedings)

England and Wales

Getting independent legal advice is important if you are suspected or accused of a crime.  This factsheet tells you how to find a lawyer and who will have to pay.

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England and Wales

At the police station

If you are questioned at the police station you have a right to request legal advice, free of charge, even if you have not been arrested. You can ask the police to contact a particular legal aid firm of your choice or ask the police to contact the duty solicitor who is available 24 hours a day and is a legal advisor who is independent from the police.  For some offences advice will be delivered over the telephone by independent advisors. For more serious offences a legal advisor can attend the police station with you.

If you want a different lawyer, you can find one through the Law Society, Bar Council, Citizens Advice Bureau or Civil Legal Advice. If you choose not to use the duty solicitor you may have to pay some costs.

If you ask for legal advice, the police must wait until the lawyer has spoken to you before they question you. If you do not want a lawyer but change your mind, you can ask for one, free, at any time.

If you are not in police custody

If you are not in police custody but are accused of a crime, you should contact a lawyer as soon as possible.  If you do not know a lawyer you can find one through the Law Society, Bar Council, Citizens Advice Bureau or Civil Legal Advice. You might qualify for free legal advice depending on your financial circumstances. A lawyer will be able to tell you whether you qualify, but you will have to provide information about your finances (e.g. a pay slip).

Free services are only available from lawyers in the Legal Aid Agency scheme or, in the towns that have them, a Public Defender Service. You can check which lawyers are in the schemes by contacting Civil Legal Advice.

At court

If your case goes to court, you have a right to legal representation. Criminal Legal Aid guarantees legal advice and representation for those on trial. Whether it is free depends on the seriousness of the case and your financial circumstances.  If you do not have a lawyer, ask to see the duty solicitor immediately when you arrive at court.

In the Magistrates’ Court, if the case is serious, legal advice and representation is free; if not, you may have to pay a contribution to the cost depending on on your case, your age, and your income. You get free legal representation if you are under 18 or receive certain state benefits. The duty solicitor at the court or a member of court staff can explain this to you.

If your case is tried in the Crown Court you are entitled to legal advice and representation. If your annual household disposable income is equal or greater than £37,500, you will not be entitled to legal aid.  You may also have to pay both income and capital based contributions towards your legal representation dependent upon your financial circumstnaces.

If you are found not guilty in the Crown Court, you may be refunded your costs. If you are found guilty, you may have to contribute towards the costs.

Related links

Legal Aid Agency

Law Society guidance

Citizen's Advice Bureau Guides (UK)

Criminal Legal Aid

General Council of the Bar

Last update: 01/12/2016

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