Whether you are eligible for legal aid or whether your opponent in litigation is legally aided can have very important consequences in litigation. Your solicitor will be able to tell you if you are eligible for legal aid and will be able to provide you with the necessary forms although not all solicitors do legal aid work. Basically, legal aid is granted on the basis of financial need and so you will have to give details of your income and expenditure to the Legal Services Commission. There are, however, certain types of legal work, wills and conveyancing for example, for which legal aid is not generally available. It is commonly available in matrimonial proceedings.
The Commission also has to be satisfied that you have good legal grounds for starting or defending a case before it will grant legal aid. It is often thought that legal aid is free whereas that is often not so. In criminal cases and ones where no property is at issue it can sometimes be "free" although the client may still have to pay contributions depending on his or her income. More commonly, the Legal ServicesCommision recovers the money which it spends on a case from the property which is recovered by a successful legally aided client. This is particularly applicable in matrimonial cases and that is probably the reason for the availability of Legal Aid in matrimonial cases - the Legal Services Commission is reasonably certain of recovering what it spends. Repayment can, and very often is, deferred by the Legal Services Commission placing a charge (which bears interest) on the property, such as a house.
The Legal Services Commission describes the statutory charge thus:-
"If you get Legal Aid, your solicitor's and barrister's bills will be paid for you by the Legal Services Commission out of taxpayers' money. But, if you get money or property with the help of Legal Aid, you may have to put it towarrds these bills. This is called the statutory charge. It means the Legal Services Commission can get back some of the millions of pounds spent each year helping people with their legal costs. You will not have to pay if you lose or your case is exempt or the other side pays all your bills."
In point of fact, what very often happens in matrimonial proceedings is that the husband cannot obtain legal aid because he is in full time employment. The wife, however, is very often at home looking after the children and so she has no income of her own. This often means that the wife is eligible for legal aid in matrimonial proceedings whereas the husband is not. The availability or otherwise of legal aid can have important effects in any litigation whether or not one is eligible for it oneself.
Please note that this firm does not undertake any type of legal aid work. If you wish to know whether you would be eligible for Legal Aid then you will need to speak to a local legal aid solicitor who will be more familiar with the detail of the rules.
If you are not eligible for Legal Aid then details of costs are set out on other pages of this web site.