Legal Advice at the Police Station – is Legal Aid available?
The Right to Legal Advice
If you are arrested and taken into Police Custody, you will be asked if you require the services of a solicitor (or legal representative). The Police & Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE) requires the police to offer you legal advice while in custody.
You will also be asked if you wish to be legally represented if you are not arrested, but invited to attend an interview on a voluntary basis.
In fact, you have the right to legal representation whenever you are going to be questioned by the police during interview “under caution”, whether this is at a police station, at your home or at any other place.
Free & Independent
Everybody has a right to “free and independent” legal advice whilst in the police station or whilst being questioned during an interview under caution.
“Free” means that the costs will be met by the Legal Aid scheme.
“Independent” means that the solicitor or legal representative will be entirely independent of the police and will be acting in your best legal interests.
If you have been represented by a criminal defence lawyer before or if you happen to know the name of a solicitor, legal representative or law firm, you can request a specific individual or that firm to be contacted. The firm will then arrange for a representative to attend the police station in order to give you advice throughout the interview process.
If you don’t know the name of a criminal defence solicitor, or firm, you will be offered the services of the Duty Solicitor. Most firms of solicitors specialising in criminal defence work will be members of their local Duty Solicitor Scheme. Their solicitors will be on a rota, taking it in turns to be on call overnight or during the day. As such, there is an element of chance with regard to the experience or abilities of the solicitor you are allocated.
What the Legal Aid Scheme does not cover
The Legal Aid scheme pays the solicitor a fixed fee for their attendance at the police station. The same fee is paid regardless of the amount of time spent at the police station or in advising the client. As a result, it is not uncommon for advice to be delivered swiftly prior to an interview and for the solicitor to move on to their next client as soon as the interview is over. This complies with the requirements of PACE and with the solicitor’s duties under their Legal Aid contract. However, it does not always mean that the client receives the highest standard of care. In fairness, the system is not designed, and is certainly not funded, so as to provide the very highest of standards.
As a suspect, once you have been bailed or released by the police subject to investigation, the legal aid scheme does not cover any further work conducted on your behalf away from the police station. A small amount of time can be claimed under an “Advice & Assistance” scheme, in very limited circumstances and only to those who meet the incredibly tough means-test criteria. As a result, most solicitors do not utilise this rather limited scheme.
In those cases where:
- a client may require a further consultation,
- where it is necessary to consider evidence that might be brought to the attention of the police,
- witnesses may need to be contacted or CCTV considered or
- where carefully drafted representations may lead to a case being dropped
The above are not covered by legal aid and clients requiring further work to be conducted on their case will need to pay privately for that service.
We understand that, for those people who have never faced police investigation before or who are anxious to put right a wrong that has been done to them, it is not good enough for solicitors to simply say “lets wait for the outcome of the police investigation”. We know that, by the time the police have put their case together, it may be too late to obtain the necessary evidence. Moreover, we understand that clients in this situation will be under enormous stress. Simply being able to discuss the case, next steps, the options available and possible outcomes, can make a huge difference to a client’s ability to deal with what’s coming.
Private Client Service
Old Bailey Solicitors currently have a Legal Aid contract. As such, we can provide advice at the police station and claim our fee from public funds. We also have a number of Duty Solicitors on various schemes across the South East. However, where work is required by our clients away from the police station or where a client requests a particular senior solicitor’s attendance at the police station, we will quote a fixed fee so that we can provide the very best service – both at the police station and away from it.
Our team members are often contacted by clients who have already been represented by the Duty Solicitor after their arrest. We can always accept instructions in those circumstances but we cannot submit a claim under the legal aid scheme for the work that needs to be done. This is because the fixed fee will have been paid out to the Duty Solicitor. That fee cannot be claimed twice in the same case, save in very exceptional circumstances. As a result, we will inform the client of the work we can do and how much it will cost. Again, we always offer a fixed fee in this regard so that there is certainty in respect of costs.
If you have been arrested or if you are currently the subject of a police investigation, or if the police have invited you to attend an interview on a voluntary basis, you are welcome to contact Old Bailey Solicitors on 0207 8464 999 or by emailing [email protected]