If you have the misfortune of being prosecuted for a criminal offence (even motoring), then you will may have heard of the Duty Solicitor Scheme at Court. This entitles a defendant to be represented free of charge for any offence which is imprisonable. "Great", you may think - "I can have legal representation free of charge". There is, however, a downside.
The Duty Solicitor Scheme is under immense pressure, particularly on busy Court days. At Lincoln there are two Duty Solicitors at Court on any given day. If you see one, then you will receive quality advice and assistance from an experienced advocate. The problem is that sometimes well in excess of 20 people may request their services. Time is of a premium and on busy days your case might not be heard until late afternoon, even if you have been bailed to attend at 9.30am. The biggest annoyance for those requesting the Duty Solicitor is not the quality of the advice and representation, but the time spent with the solicitor and the waiting around. In addition, you can only be represented once by a Duty Solicitor. If your case is adjourned, they cannot represent you again, nor can a Duty Solicitor represent you at a trial.
What many people do not realise is that they may be entitled to Legal Aid. This is based upon the type of offence and your financial situation. Those on certain benefits are passported for Legal Aid purposes. Even those on low incomes are likely to qualify. Our advice is not to wait until the day of your case to get advice. Whomever your choice of solicitor, go to see them straight away. Take with you details of what you are being prosecuted for and details of income (proof of benefit or latest wage slips). We will be able to give you an idea there and then if you will qualify. The application itself is very straightforward in most cases and a decision usually received in 48 hours. Most solicitors will see you for free in order to establish whether you will qualify for Legal Aid. We certainly do.
The advantage then is that if Legal Aid is granted, the solicitor can obtain the evidence in advance of the hearing (rather than on the day), can see you to go through it and give advice ahead of your Court date on the strength of the case and likely sentence. It may well put your mind at ease rather than worrying about it At the Court hearing itself, the solicitor will already know about your case and will have it prepared. All of this reduces delay and stress.
So if you do find you have to go to Court, then contact your solicitor immediately. It makes sense.
Mark Wood, Solicitor.