Online Archive  
Issue 6 - June 1972
Legal Aid
Our daily lives are becoming more and more involved with the law. The law is covering all aspects of our lives both private and public. This complicates matters so that we are no longer aware of what rights we have. The Establishment thrives on the individual's ignorance of the law or much more basically one's rights. "There is a sense in which all law is nothing more nor less than a gigantic confidence trick". The problem lies in not necessarily knowing the intricacies but in how to find them out. Justice is an expensive commodity that few of us can afford. This is not wholly true. The Legal Aid Scheme, run by the Law Society, is to enable everyone to be legally represented in court without regard to their financial status. There are two ways to obtain this - either through the Legal Aid Panel which entails a means test or under the Voluntary Scheme that entails paying a fee of £1 for a half hour consultation with a solicitor who will then tell you how much if anything you are required to contribute.

Civil cases
Anyone over 16 years can get legal advice from a solicitor on the Legal Aid Panel, a list which is available from any Citizens Advice Bureau or court office. If you are on supplementary benefit and do not have more than £125 capital you'll be able to get free advice. Otherwise for 12½p you may get up to 1½ hours free consultation with a solicitor.

If you are employed you may get advice also for 12½p if -

a) You have less than £125 capital.
b) Your income in the last 7 days up to and including the day on which you apply is less than £9.50.

To arrive at these sums you must if married, take into account your wife's income and capital, unless you live separately or if the matter is against her interests.

a) With regard to assessing your capital you may leave out the value of your house, its contents, and your clothes and tools for work.
b) If your wife is living with you or you maintain her, take off £3.05p.
c) For children deduct as follows:
Under 5 years £1.40p
Under 11 years £1.65p
Under 13 years £2.05p
Under 16 years £2.20p
For any other adult maintained by you deduct £3.05p
d) Any income tax, national insurance, industrial injuries or national health contributions paid or payable to you OR your wife during the week immediately prior to taking legal advice.

After advice if it is necessary for the matter to be taken to court legal aid, if it is granted, will be available in the County and High courts, and the Court of Appeal for most cases except those wholly or partially concerned with libel or slander. In the House of Lords for all appeals. In the Magistrates Court for many civil actions. In the Industrial Relations Court but not for the Industrial Relations Tribunals. Also in the Lands Tribunal for instance in cases of compulsory purchasing orders and rate appeals.

Criminal cases
You should get legal advice immediately in such a situation. Again the system of finding out your means exists. However the Law Society decide whether or not your claim is worthwhile and are keen not to waste public money. This could result in a dangerous situation of the Law Society acting as a judge on the case before providing money for what should be a natural right to be represented.

Certain efforts have been made to get round the formalities that legal aid requires by setting up Law Clinics such as the Kensington Law Centre. Such centres provide free legal advice, for everybody immaterial of financial means, and is given by solicitors. Another experiment which ended last week in Bristol where a solicitor has been, for one month, on hand to give advice to defendants whether in the waiting room or in the cells.

The solicitor would question those in custody if wanted, "about the charges against him, his family situation, employment and previous criminal record. Other factors, such as whether the defendant intended to plead guilty, whether he wanted bail, and, if so, what sureties he could provide, and how to obtain legal aid, often needed t be discussed at greater length and it was in those areas that the solicitor was best able to be of use. The 'duty' solicitor then completed a form containing all the information he had ascertained together with the recommendations on what action should be taken by the magistrates."

The main drawback to the scheme was that the solicitor was not empowered to represent the defendants in court but despite this the experiment can be viewed in the light that "there exists a real need for such a service, particularly for defendants in custody. The inarticulate represented defendant particularly was not at such a disadvantage as he would have been without the scheme" (Times, 31.5.72). In Cardiff this month a similar scheme is working. It differs only in that here the solicitor will be able to represent the defendant in court. Perhaps this will soon become the natural course of events throughout the country.

Generally speaking as soon as you have any problems, be it payment of bills or simply the writing of a letter, do not hesitate but go and make an appointment with a solicitor. If you can't go yourself you can send a friend or relative on your behalf. Do not worry if you are not earning under £9.50 after the deductions because they will assess your means and ask you to make a contribution. Then you can decide whether to accept legal aid or not.

By the next edition we hope to have in the office a fairly comprehensive list of solicitors in the north-east who give legal advice under the Legal Aid Scheme.