Means testing in the courts
The means tests explained
In the magistrates' court, if your client passes the Interests of Justice test and the means test they will receive free legal aid.
The means test looks at your client's income, family circumstances - eg, the number and age of any children - and essential living costs like mortgage or rent. The test decides if they can afford to pay all or some of their defence costs and is applied differently from Crown Court cases.
In the Crown Court, if a defendant passes the Interests of Justice test they will automatically be entitled to legal aid.
However, around 1 in 4 defendants have to contribute towards their defence costs. The type of proceedings a defendant is facing in the Crown Court will determine how the means test will be applied. This is different from the magistrates' court scheme where those who fail the means test must pay privately for all the cost of their representation.
Crown Court trial
The means test will consider a defendant's income and capital assests. The defendant may be liable for contributions during the proceedings or at the end of their case.
Committal for sentence
The means test will only consider your client's income. Your client will not be liable for contributions but if they fail the means test, they will not get legal aid.
Appeals to the Crown Court
The means test will only consider your client's income. Your client may be liable for a fixed sum contribution at the end of their appeal if they fail the means test and their appeal is unsuccessful. Your client will also be liable for a fixed sum contribution if they abandon their appeal.
Making contributions in the Crown Court
There are two types of contribution a defendant in the Crown Court may have to make - either from income and/or capital.
They may have to pay all, some or none of their defence costs, depending on what the means test decides they can afford from their income and capital assets.
Payments from income in the Crown Court
If a defendant has to make contributions from income, this will be for a maximum of 6 months and will begin once their case has been sent to the Crown Court.
At the end of the case, if the defendant is found not guilty they will get all their money back with interest at a rate of 2%.
Payment from capital in the Crown Court
Where the defendant is found guilty or they plead guilty, they may have to pay towards their defence costs from capital if they have assets of £30,000 or more.
The LAA has contracted out the collection and enforcement of contributions for Crown Court Means Testing to Rossendales Ltd.
Rossendales is responsible for
- collecting income contributions
- capital and equity checks
- calculating final contribution orders (ie from capital and equity following conviction)
- communicating with applicants and taking enforcement action where necessary.
Their contact details, which can be given to applicants, are:
Telephone: 0844 701 3991
Fax: 0844 701 3992
24 hour payment line: 0845 078 1194
Online payments: Rossendales website
Address: Wavell House, Holcombe Road, Helmshore, Rossendale, BB4 4NB.
Collection of arrearsIf the defendant is convicted in the Crown Court but has arrears under their Income Contribution Order (ICO), collection and enforcement activity will continue. They are liable for this payment even after the case has concluded.
The table below shows how ICO liability is calculated.
|Liability and payments under an Income Contribution Order|
Liability for contributions under an income contribution order is based on an applicant having annual household disposable income greater than £3398.
This is where the outcome of the first full means assessment is 'fail'. The date of this assessment drives the liability and payment schedule under the income contribution order, as set out in the example below.
|Assessment or committal sending date = 17/06/2011|
|Month||Liability schedule||Payment schedule|
|1||liability created||17/06/11||payment due||15/07/2011|
|2||liability created||17/07/11||payment due||15/08/2011|
|3||liability created||17/08/11||payment due||15/09/2011|
|4||liability created||17/09/11||payment due||15/10/2011|
|5||liability created||17/10/11||payment due||15/11/2011|
|6||liability created||17/11/11||payment due||15/12/2011|
If your client believes that there are exceptional circumstances that should be considered when their means are being assessed, they can apply to the court to have their contribution reviewed. See the hardship review page for more information.