A Good Free Legal Aid Lawyer Should… ?
If you have been charged with a criminal offence, or are subject to prosecution before the criminal courts, you may be entitled to avail of Criminal Legal Aid.
Being the subject of criminal prosecution is a serious matter and the outcome of such case can have a drastic serious consequences for an Accused person – up to and including a loss of their very liberty. For this reason, it is recognised that the State should assist in the provision of legal services and advice for those who cannot otherwise afford it. They are, after all, facing the might and machinery of the State and presumed innocent until the contrary is proven.
Criminal Legal Aid is granted to Accused persons on the basis of:
(1) their lack of sufficient financial means; and
(2) the seriousness of the offence for which they are charged.
Sometimes a person who might ordinarily be deemed to exceed the financial threshold will still obtain legal aid because the charge they face is a more serious one. This is a balancing act for the Court to carry out.
The way in which this is decided is simple : an Accused person before the Court will complete and sign a form setting out their financial means and the Judge will then decide whether they are eligible to receive Legal Aid.
The right to obtain Legal Aid was first introduced by the Criminal Law (Legal Aid) Act 1962. Over the years since, case law has added some nuances to why someone even in a seemingly straight forward case might benefit from having the services or advices of a solicitor [and, in complex cases, even a certificate for Counsel] before the District Court.
If you are unfortunate enough to ever need the services of a good free Legal Aid lawyer, you should be aware of the things you need to look for. In short, that person should:-
- Act professionally, diligently and ethically at all times;
- Not tout for your case by approaching you, unsolicited or uninvited, in the Court or at the Courthouse. Most of my colleagues are beyond reproach in this regard but it is sadly a phenomenon I have seen increase over my 19 years in practice;
- Take your instructions and offer you full and appropriate advice, so as to enable you to make informed decisions in your case;
- Apply for all of the evidence in your case, known as ‘disclosure’ (unless you have indicated that an fully informed wish to not challenge the case against you), take full instructions on your defence (if you have one), identify and interview any witnesses, and investigate any matter within reason that will support or enhance your defence;
- Should explain matters to you as clearly and concisely as possible, provide you with honest advice and opinion, and not mislead you on the law or your defence;
- Should not counsel you to plead guilty if you are not guilty and have instructed that you are not guilty;
- Conversely, if you are guilty and want to plead guilty, should allow you to do so at the earliest possible in order that maximum credit in mitigation is achieved, unless there is a genuine and good reason which has been explained to you and which you agree is to your benefit (Over the course of almost two decades working in this field, I have seen far too many cases being remanded back too many times for little apparent reason);
- Give you trial advice or mitigation advice in a clear and concise way, and in good time. It is your solicitor’s duty to try and guide you on matters of law, and if you do not understand what is being said you should say so);
- Appeal your case if you want to appeal against either a conviction or sentence, and, if you do want to take such appeal, lodge that appeal within the allowed time;
- Give you a proper service, afford you adequate time and courtesy, and telephone / email / contact you back when you call;
- Not leave you in custody when you should not be in custody or do not need to be in custody;
- Not speak to the media or third parties, or have any other dealings with media, without your specific prior consent.
* Please note that the above is merely an expression of opinion and is not intended to be legal advice!
Should you wish to discuss the above, have any questions, or would like to talk about any other matter relating to the criminal law, please to contact Peter Connolly Solicitors using the contact details or the contact box at the foot of the page.