Legal Aid in the UK
The types of cases which are currently covered by Legal Aid in England and Wales (www.legalservices.gov.uk) include cases against the police for wrongful arrest, issues with welfare or social services, general crime or debt, family issues, mental health issues and public law. Legal aid will not cover cases such as those for personal injury, employment tribunals, conveyancing issues or defamation.
Legal Aid is the system whereby those who cannot afford to pay for their own legal representation are helped by the state. Those who wish to take advantage of this system must meet certain criteria and only certain types of legal cases will be covered by legal aid. In some cases legal aid may need to be repaid or some contribution will need to be made by the applicant.
These rules are about to be changed substantially and fewer people will have access to legal representation due to the passing of a new bill in May 2012.
In Northern Ireland the legal aid service is run by the Legal Services Commission or NILSC (www.nilsc.org.uk). They establish who is eligible for legal aid assistance and can help anyone who is facing charges or is under investigation.
Unfortunately in England and Wales the fact that personal injury and employment tribunals are not covered by legal aid has meant that those wanting to take these types of cases to court often need an alternative solution to pay their legal fees. This is where no win, no fee lawyers are stepping in. They are able to take on cases without charging an upfront fee. If the case is won, the legal costs are recovered from the other party.
The Queen's Speech made in May 2012 has stated that the legal aid budget in England and Wales will be substantially trimmed by restricting further those who can access it. In addition it will change the way that fees can be recovered by making referral fees illegal in personal injury cases. Alternative sources of advice will be made available for anyone who does not qualify for legal aid. Lawyers will also have a cap on the level of success fees they can charge.
These changes will also mean that cases of medical negligence, housing, welfare, debt and immigration will no longer qualify for legal aid. This will be in place from 2013 and has seen many groups express their concerns that legal help will not be available to those who need it.
In Scotland, the government has published draft legislation which may see legal aid being means tested in a bid to save money. The government in Scotland believe that it is right that those who can afford to pay for legal representation should do so. The legislation states that those who have a disposable income of less than £68 a week should pay nothing towards their legal fees, but those on higher incomes should pay a contribution on a sliding scale.
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