Public Funding and the Early Stages
Every person charged with a criminal offence is entitled to legal representation and this must be provided free if they lack sufficient funds. In private practice you may only provide publicly funded criminal defence services if you have a contract with the Legal Services Commission or specifically the Criminal Defence Service. Files need to opened and maintained in a specified format and the LSC conducts regular audits. Assistance at the police station is provided by the police station advice and assistance scheme which is means tested so clients in receipt of various social services benefits would qualify automatically.
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The defendant can be represented at court via a duty solicitor completely free and this is likely to happen during their first appearance at the magistrate's court. A representation order would allow the defendant to receive publicly funded representation. If it is a case to be tried on indictment the defendant must satisfy the ‘interests of justice test'. The Access to Justice Act 1999 states that if any of the following grounds apply the ‘interest of justice test' is met and the defendant is entitled to a representation order.
- If the offence is proved the defendant is likely to lose his liberty or livelihood or suffer serious damage to his reputation
- The case involves a substantial question of law
- The defendant has a mental or physical disability and inadequate command of English
- The case involves tracing of witnesses or cross examination of experts
You must state as many of the relevant grounds as possible in order to maximise the chances of being granted representation. Also it is an important aspect or working under a CDS contract to keep accurate notes and ordered files at all times as well as time recording. It is usually during the first interview with your client that you would take a detailed statement and also fill out the relevant forms for public funding. Please see CDS14 Application form for Legal Aid in criminal proceedings.