Legal help when you can't afford a lawyer
What this chapter covers
This chapter explains:
- about criminal legal aid – including how to apply, how it's decided whether you'll get criminal legal aid, whether you'll have to pay any of it back, and what you can do if you're refused legal aid
- about other legal assistance that you can get in criminal cases – including talking to a lawyer for free when you've been arrested or are being held (under the Police Detention Legal Assistance scheme (PDLA)), and having a duty lawyer represent you on your first day in court
- about civil and family legal aid – including how to apply, how it's decided whether you'll get legal aid, whether you'll have to pay any of it back, and what you can do if you're refused legal aid.
The main legislation: Legal Services Act 2011
The aim of the Legal Services Act 2011 is to promote access to justice by providing legal services for people who have “insufficient means” and by delivering those services in the most effective and efficient way.
The main way the Act does this is through the legal aid scheme, through which the government pays the fees of private lawyers to represent people who can't afford to pay themselves. Legal aid is usually provided as a loan. In certain circumstances, no repayment may be required.
The legal aid scheme covers both criminal and civil (including family) cases.
Another way the government provides legal services under the Act is through the Public Defence Service (PDS). The PDS consists of lawyers employed by the Ministry of Justice to represent criminal defendants who can't afford a lawyer themselves.