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Legal Aid v Private Representation

Despite every lawyer advising their client to always read the small print we recognise that when individuals are stressed they regularly fail to register the finer details of documents. One such detail of the means tested Criminal Legal Aid scheme is that applicants who satisfy the gross income, disposable income and disposable capital tests may be required to make contributions towards the cost of their legal aid. If an individual’s annual disposable income exceeds £3,398 they are required to make six monthly payments under an income contribution order of up to 90% of their monthly disposable income (subject to upper limits set on the total payable according to particular classes of case). At the conclusion of the case, an applicant who is convicted may in addition be required to pay an additional amount from their disposable capital towards the balance of their defence costs. While the individual’s income is considered for the purposes of the contribution order at the outset and during proceedings, an individual’s capital is only considered for this purpose at the conclusion of proceedings. This can prove to be extremely expensive.

We consider the funding options available to defendants in a criminal case and the factors to consider when deciding which option will ensure that you reach the best outcome for you and your family.

What funding options are available?

In criminal cases, there are 3 possible funding options available:

1. Legal aid

a. Legal aid is a financial provision that is publicly funded. It is available for individuals who meet a specific criterion and are unable to afford legal representation.
b. The purpose of legal aid is to ensure that those eligible are entitled to a defence and the right to a fair trial regardless of their means.

2. Private funding

a. When you pay for your legal fees with your own money.

3. Insurance

a. Some household/ motor insurance policies will cover the cost of a criminal prosecution.

What are the benefits of funding my own case when legal aid is available?

1. The criteria for those eligible for legal aid has tightened up drastically meaning that fewer people are now eligible.
2. Those that are granted legal aid often will be required to pay monthly contributions. So yes, this means that in the lead up to your case, you will be expected to contribute to your legal representatives. You should be aware, that the legal aid agency will prioritise legal aid contributions above your other household costs and bills.
3. Think about your desired outcome… There are some stark differences beyond the cost which are important to weigh up when deciding the best approach that you should take in order to reach the most favourable outcome.
4. Though legal aid representatives will have the best intentions for you, the amount of time they are able to give to your case is limited due to the low legal aid rates.
5. You will be entitled to a defence and support but the resources available to you will be sparse.

Why should I choose private funding:

The most obvious advantage is the experienced and bespoke service that you receive.

Other advantages:

a. Around the clock availability
b. Outside agency assistance, this will include access to forensics, experts, and investigators.
c. A full legal defence team, this will include a barrister, solicitor and paralegal.
d. You will be able to select who you wish to represent you.
e. Building a defence will involve time and preparation. If you fund your case privately, case preparation is not affected by legal aid restrictions.
In summary, you get what you pay for!

How much will a private defence team cost me?

1. Every case is different and will incur different costs.
2. Your defence team will be able to provide you with a full breakdown of costs prior to instruction. This breakdown will include the type of fee structures available to you, the volume of work involved and the likely cost in defending your matter.
3. Prices will vary depending on the level and seniority of your defence team and the volume of work that is involved.

Top tips to get the best deal:

1. Set out what you want from a legal team and then shop around to source the best deal for you.
2. Set out your budget with your defence team so that your defence team can work within your budget. In order to do this, you need to be honest and transparent with your defence team so that they can advise you on the best options for you with the resources that you have available.
3. Negotiate a sensible instalment plan option with your defence team. This will help you manage your fees over a long period of time.
4. Firms will offer different cost structures, fixed fee, or hourly rate. Discuss these options with your legal team and do you research to see which option suits you best. It may be that a mixture of both will suit you. Your legal team will be able to advise you accordingly
Whatever your financial circumstances, you should consider your options carefully. Let us help you consider the best funding option for you.

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