“Everyone has the right to a fair trial.” - Human Rights Act 1998 / Article 6 - European Convention On Human Rights.
In the determination of his civil rights and obligations or of any criminal charge against him, everyone is entitled to a fair and public hearing within a reasonable time by an independent and impartial tribunal established by law. Judgement shall be pronounced publicly but the press and public may be excluded from all or part of the trial in the interest of morals, public order or national security in a democratic society, where the interests of juveniles or the protection of the private life of the parties so require, or to the extent strictly necessary in the opinion of the court in special circumstances where publicity
Everyone charged with a criminal offence shall be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law.
Everyone charged with a criminal offence has the following minimum rights:
- to be informed promptly, in a language which he understands and in detail, of the nature and cause of the accusation against him;
- to have adequate time and facilities for the preparation of his defence;
- to defend himself in person or through legal assistance of his own choosing or, if he has not sufficient means to pay for legal assistance, to be given it free when the interests of justice so require;
- to examine or have examined witnesses against him and to obtain the attendance and examination of witnesses on his behalf under the same conditions as witnesses against him;
- to have the free assistance of an interpreter if he cannot understand or speak the language used in court.
WE CAN GIVE YOU THREE TYPES OF FREE LEGAL HELP IN CRIMINAL PROCEEDINGS:
ADVICE & ASSISTANCE
This covers work away from court before legal aid is granted or in some cases where legal aid is not available. We may be able to do up to one hour of work under this scheme to take details of your case and help you apply for legal aid.
This covers representation and advice in certain types of proceedings e.g. prison disciplinary matters, parenting orders, football banning orders, applications for anti-social behaviour orders etc.
LEGAL AID IN THE MAGISTRATES’ COURT
Legal aid has always depended on whether the courts think your case is so serious that you need a lawyer in your particular case.
From 2nd October 2006 legal aid in the Magistrates’ Court also depends on your income (but not your savings or capital). If you have a partner their income will be taken into account in assessing whether you qualify, but you should note that if you are responsible for the upkeep of your partner or your children this will be taken into account.
We will tell you whether we think you should apply for legal aid and will help you to complete the application form. We will keep you informed on the progress of your application. If you are granted legal aid we can continue to represent you until the end of the court case. Legal aid does not cover work after the court case is finished.
If legal aid is granted you do not have to pay any contribution during the case but at the end of the case, if you are convicted of any offence, the court can order you to pay a sum of money towards the prosecution costs.
If your case is dealt with in the Magistrates’ Court or you plead guilty in the Magistrates’ Court and are committed to the Crown Court for sentencing only (or you appeal against sentence only) you will not be ordered to pay a sum of money towards the costs of your defence.
LEGAL AID IN THE CROWN COURT
Legal aid for the Crown Court does not depend on your ability to pay but this may change in the future.
In Crown Court cases (including appeals against conviction but not including committals for sentence or appeals against sentence), at the end of the case, if you are over 18 and convicted of any offence, you may be ordered to make a contribution to defence costs. The order can be from zero up to the full amount of our costs and is paid to the court in the same way as a fine. The exact amount will depend on a number of factors including your income, outgoings, savings, capital etc. and the circumstances of the case.
If your case has to be heard at the Crown Court we will provide you with an estimate for defence costs. If you are considering asking for a jury trial or an appeal against a conviction at the crown court you can ask us for an estimate at any time before making your decision.
Where legal aid is not granted or applied for but awaiting a decision we will act on a private basis. Fees will vary depending on the level of seriousness, the volume of material and the complexity of the matter. Hourly rates are agreed in advance and a written estimate will be given. In smaller cases we are often able to agree a fixed fee.
In some cases legal aid may still be granted even though your income is over the normal financial limit for legal aid. This is where exceptional hardship would be caused.
MAGISTRATES’ COURT & CROWN COURT
Some of the less serious criminal cases can only be heard in the Magistrates’ Court and some of the most serious can only be heard in the Crown Court. There is another group of cases which can be heard in either court. These are called either-way offences.
In these cases, if you intend to plead not guilty, you may be given the choice whether the matter is heard in the Crown Court or the Magistrates' Court. Sometimes, with the more serious of either-way offences, the court will say that a case must be heard in the Crown Court.
The Magistrates' Court is the lower court and the magistrates' powers of sentence generally are limited to a maximum of six months custody. The trial itself is fairly informal, compared to the Crown Court, and Magistrates' Court trials usually take place more quickly than Crown Court trials. The magistrates themselves will decide all questions of fact and law, whereas in the Crown Court a jury will decide questions of fact. However, the magistrates do have the power to send you the Crown Court for sentence if, after conviction, they believe their powers of sentence are insufficient. This is unlikely in most cases where they have agreed to hear the trial.
The Crown Court is the higher court and is a more formal setting. You would be tried by a jury, and a judge would decide on all points of law. A Crown Court judge has substantially greater powers of sentence than magistrates. Crown Court trials generally take longer to take place than Magistrates' Court trials, and you probably would not get a Crown Court trial within four to six months.
If you are charged with an either way offence we can help you to decide whether you would like the case to be heard in the Crown Court or the Magistrates' Court.
If you are under 18 your case will usually be dealt with in the Youth Court. In the most serious cases the court can say that your case must be heard at the Crown Court. If you are charged jointly with an adult your case may have to be heard in the Magistrates’ or the Crown Court.
CREDIT FOR GUILTY PLEAS
Please note that the court can give you a discount on your sentence if you plead guilty at an early stage. The earlier you plead guilty the more credit you will be given. The general rule is that if you plead guilty at the first opportunity you will be given a one third discount on your sentence. Over time this will reduce. If you wait until your trial before pleading guilty the general rule is that you will get a one tenth discount on your sentence. The exact discount will depend upon the circumstances of the case.