Olliers recognise that being accused of a criminal offence can have a profound effect on a person’s life and future aspirations.
For some, particularly for those of good character or in employment, a conviction can have a devastating effect. Loss of reputation or employment, in terms of loss of income or ability to work, can often mean more than the punishment of the Court itself. In some cases family relationships are tested.
We advise on all aspects of Criminal Defence, including appropriate methods of funding. We provide experienced, professional, representation regardless of how we are paid.
What are the options?
In short, all our clients have two options when deciding how to fund their case.
If appropriate, we will assist you in making an application for Legal Aid. This essentially provides payment to your solicitors by the government. If eligible, you will not need to pay for your defence. Eligibility is explained in more detail below although, in principle, the Court will consider your income together with the seriousness of the offence in determining whether Legal Aid ought to be granted.
Alternatively, you may wish to consider paying for your case privately, either because you are not eligible for Legal Aid, or simply because you consider your case to be so serious that you demand the very best in terms of service and representation.
How does representation differ if I pay privately?
Olliers are committed to providing all our clients with a first rate standard of representation. The Legal Aid scheme provides for a lawyer to meet you at Court and take instructions from you, usually on the morning of your first appearance in Court. If your case is adjourned, either for trial or any other good reason, a lawyer will attend at every subsequent hearing and assist you throughout the life of your case. Due to constraints imposed by numerous cuts to the Legal Aid system, it is not unusual for a different lawyer to represent you at different hearings, despite our best efforts.
Legal Aid does not cover representation or advice prior to the grant of a Representation Order. In practice, this has the unsatisfactory effect of leaving those accused of crimes at their most vulnerable at what can often be the most important period – between police station and Court. Effective representations made to the Police or Crown Prosecution Service early in proceedings can have a profound effect on the outcome of your case.
Enquiries relating to, for example, the seizure of CCTV and prompt identification of potential witnesses can similarly have a huge impact on the outcome of a case. In many cases, we have been able to persuade the Crown Prosecution Service that charges should not be laid, either because prosecution is not in the public interest or because our enquiries have caused the prosecution case to be weakened at an early stage.
Furthermore, paying privately puts you and your solicitor in control of your case from the outset.
Following an initial consultation, a senior, experienced lawyer or director will take control of your case and will guide you through the entire process from start to finish, taking the initiative from the Crown Prosecution Service.
Together with your lawyer, you control how your case is managed; enquiries that ought to be made are made promptly, without the delay and uncertainty of government sponsored representation, which necessitates seeking permission and further funding for all but the most routine of enquiries.
If necessary, with our guidance, a Barrister of your choice can be instructed to represent you at trial. At Olliers we recognise that different cases demand different skills. A technical defence relying on persuasive legal argument may require a different skillset (and therefore advocate) than, for example, the robust cross-examination of a key prosecution witness. You might want to instruct Queens Counsel to represent you in circumstances where Legal Aid will only provide for a junior barrister. We will arrange this for you.
In summary, funding your case privately can give you the upper hand throughout the lifetime of your case.
In general terms, Matthew and Richard specialise in cases likely to be heard in the Crown Court; Tim and Toby specialise in matters likely to be heard in the Magistrates Court. All four are heavily involved in pre-charge work.
Call us on 0161 834 1515 or complete the online advice request form and we will call you back promptly.
Frequently Asked Questions
How do I know if I’m eligible for Legal Aid?
In the Magistrates Courts legal aid is means tested and only available to those who qualify. Costs orders can be made for non legally aided defendants who are acquitted which means that they will be reimbursed the cost of defending the case (although not always in full).
Legal aid is also available in the Crown Court and again is subject to means testing of disposable income (post January 27th 2014). Those with a household disposable income of below £37,500 will be eligible for legal aid although a contribution may be payable for up to the first six months of the case. From April 2013, the Courts can make a Recovery of Defence Costs Order at the conclusion of the case if a defendant is convicted. This will cover the shortfall between the initial contribution and the final cost.
I want to pay privately, what are the options?
Increasingly, for the reasons outlined above, clients choose to fund their case privately, either agreeing fees with us at the beginning of the case or paying on an hourly basis at a rate set by the Law Society.
A fixed fee allows for a level of certainty in relation to total costs. Criminal defence work can be fraught with unforeseen twists and turns during the lifetime of a case. At times cases are delayed because witnesses are not available and trials scheduled for one day often go into a second sitting Sometimes we may have to request an additional Court hearing simply because the Crown have not provided information we have requested that assists you. A fixed fee protects you from such unforeseen circumstances in terms of increased costs.
You may wish to pay for your defence strictly according to the work done on your case. We will advise you about this if you wish. This may be more appropriate in the early life of a case when one or two hours of professional assistance can have a profound impact on the way your case develops.
Will I get my money back if I am found not guilty?
If you choose to pay privately and are found not guilty in the Magistrates Court, you are entitled to your costs to be assessed and reimbursed but only at legal aid rates and only in respect of work the Determining Officer thinks was necessary. As a rule of thumb you might be reimbursed somewhere between one third and two thirds of your costs.
If you choose to pay privately and you are acquitted in the Crown Court then you are entitled to costs just as you are in the Magistrates Court but only if you were deemed ineligible for legal aid.
This may seem unfair because a person of modest means who chooses to pay privately (for example to secure the services of the most senior lawyers in the firm) is not entitled to a costs order in his favour whereas a much wealthier defendant would be.
Can I mix and match legal aid and paying privately?
You cannot top up your legal aid with private payments to secure the legal team of your choice. However, it would be entirely possible to start the ball rolling by funding your case privately and subsequently applying for legal aid. This may have the advantage of involving less initial expense although if convicted the overall cost would depend on the size of any Recovery of Defence Costs Order. This is something you can discuss with us.
Can I have the services of any lawyer within the firm?
Our lawyers deal with different areas of criminal law. Generally speaking, the most senior lawyers and the Directors within the firm are the ones who tend to deal with privately funded work.
If funds have been restrained prior to charge we require funding from third parties because the terms of the restraint order will not allow for payment of legal fees from restrained funds.
We are happy to undertake work in respect of appeals against conviction or sentence. We only do this on a privately funded basis although there are firms who are prepared to undertake appeals on a legally aided basis.