Headlines: September 28th, 2006



It has been announced that solicitors will be paid for any extra work they do to help their clients apply for legal aid under new legislation which comes into force next week. Under the Criminal Defence Service Act anyone charged with a criminal offence and applying for legal aid in a magistrates’ court will qualify for help only if they cannot afford to pay for a lawyer.

Under the new regulations the existing ‘interests of justice’ test will be supplemented by a test of financial eligibility that will be carried out largely by court staff using an on-line application system. Solicitors who will be involved in implementing the Act will receive more information about the process directly from the Department for Constitutional Affairs.

The move to introduce fees for work on the applications was announced by Legal Aid Minister Vera Baird who said she had received a number of useful suggestions that had helped shape the new regulations and addressed issues that might have affected their implementation. “I am grateful for the commitment and practical input from solicitors across the country to help make this new process work for everyone involved,” she said.

She said the Department recognised that there would inevitably be additional work for solicitors in helping many of their clients to fill in the relevant forms. It was fair, the Minister said, that they should be paid for the extra time they spent in this process as it was vital to the successful working of the new scheme.