Most are aware of their human rights, particularly Article 6 (right to a fair trial / hearing), which is fundamental to the rule of law in many countries and particularly ours. It is widely acknowledged that the UK’s criminal justice system is one of the most effective legal systems in the world.
Does the absence of legal representation impact upon a defendant’s right to a fair trial? Many would believe so and perhaps this now places our effective legal system under scrutiny.
In recent times, the Government has implemented a number of cut backs in relation to the legal aid assessment and qualification criteria. The current position is strict and makes it difficult for those who earn an honest living to secure legal aid.
But how does the assessment work? It is all based on calculating and assessing a defendant’s ‘disposable’ income, which is calculated by deducting living costs from the gross annual income. Living costs will include any tax and national insurance paid; annual housing costs; annual childcare costs; and any annual maintenance paid to former partners. A single person allowance will also be permitted to the value of £5,676.00 which covers an average person’s essential spending on items such as food, clothing and fuel.
If your ‘disposable’ income is calculated as being more than £3,398.00 per year (or £284.00 per month), you will NOT be eligible for legal aid in the Magistrates’ Court.
Let’s put this into perspective. You are a 22 year old graduate still living at home with your parents, and are the subject of malicious allegations from a former partner. You earn £15,000pa (after tax and NI). You pay £50 per week board to your parents (£2,600pa). You also have your single person allowance of £5,676. This leaves you with a disposable income of £6274pa. You would not be eligible for legal aid in the Magistrates’ Court.
Would you be able to fund your case privately? The legal aid assessment in the lower courts doesn’t take into account the Saturday night partying; the monthly gym membership; the mobile phone contract; the summer holiday that you are saving for. You get the gist.
Without proper legal representation throughout your case, your future is in jeopardy.
This is just one example of the difficulties many are now facing in the Magistrates’ court; not qualifying for legal aid but also not being in a position to fund their own case, which is the primary cause for the increase in unrepresented defendants. They simply cannot afford it.
It is a concerning development, and one that may need reviewing in the future.
Please contact Burton Copeland should you have any queries regarding representation and funding in the Magistrates Court.