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Can I change my Legal Aid Lawyer?

For their strong principles and admirable work ethic, even in the face of incredibly trying times for Legal Aid in the past few years, Legal Aid lawyers in England and Wales are among some of the most respected professionals in the field. That said, there are occasions when – and good reasons why – you might want to change your Legal Aid lawyer. If that is the case, don’t worry. Changing your Legal Aid lawyer is possible, though subject to some quite stringent restrictions. In this article, we explain exactly how to do that and address some common questions around changing a Legal Aid lawyer.

What can I do if I am unhappy with my Legal Aid solicitor?

If you are unhappy with your Legal Aid solicitor, you have a few options. The best one to start with is simply raising the issues with the solicitor themselves and seeing if you can work out a resolution together. With legal cases being such significant (and stressful!) life events, it is not unusual for tensions to be high. If you feel like you can’t get through to your Legal Aid solicitor or they are not making the changes you need, there might be someone in the firm that you can speak to. More and more, law firms are hiring client value or client success teams to help you get the best possible experience working with their firm. If you’ve got one such contact, you can be sure they will go the extra mile to help you resolve any issues.

If that fails, however, you might have to look into requesting a new solicitor to represent you. As you will see below, with Legal Aid solicitors, that process is not as straightforward as it is with private legal representation.

Can you sack a Legal Aid solicitor?

Changing your solicitor is straightforward if you are paying privately, but if you are receiving representation through the UK government’s Legal Aid Agency, the matter is quite different.

Strictly speaking, you cannot just sack your Legal Aid solicitor once they have been appointed to you. Instead, you have to go through what is called, ‘an Application to Transfer’, which requires you to prove to the court that you have valid grounds for requesting a new solicitor.

Is it a good idea to change Legal Aid solicitors?

Before we look at the process for changing Legal Aid solicitors, it is worth considering whether it is actually a good idea to change Legal Aid solicitors in the first place.

Changing legal representation mid-way through a case is always problematic, whether the lawyer is publicly or privately funded. The disruption can harm your case more than changing lawyers can help it, so you need to think very carefully.

Generally speaking, if you are well into a case and are simply dissatisfied with the personal rapport you have with your lawyer, it is not worth changing. If, however, you have concerns over professionalism or the quality of the representation you are receiving, it might be a good idea to change.

What is the procedure for changing Legal Aid solicitors?

To change Legal Aid solicitors, you need to complete an Application to Transfer. There are fairly complex rules set out for changing criminal representation under the Criminal Procedure Rules and Practice Directions 2020, but everything you need to know as a client is outlined on the form itself.

The Application to Transfer form is straightforward to complete. You will be asked for your personal details, the details of your current and desired representation, and a few contextual questions, such as ‘How and why did you choose those solicitors in the first place?’ Your old and new firm will need to complete parts of the form, too.

Note that this form can only be used to transfer Legal Aid solicitors in England and Wales; different rules apply for Legal Aid schemes in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

Once completed, you can send the form to the court to consider. It is solely down to the discretion of the court whether to allow the transfer. Usually, the court is looking at the costs of allowing you a new solicitor, as Legal Aid funding is tight, and they need to ensure public funds are properly used.

If the old law firm is not happy about the transfer, or contests the complaints, you may need to present evidence of your complaints in court.

What are the valid grounds to change Legal Aid solicitors?

The court will only accept your application to change solicitors in the following circumstances:

  • Your present solicitors are unable to provide effective representation because there has been a breakdown in the relationship between you and the present solicitors, or there is some other compelling reason why they cannot, OR
  • Your present solicitors consider they have a duty to withdraw from the case in accordance with their professional rules of conduct, or your present solicitors are no longer able to represent you through circumstances outside their control.

If there are other reasons, the court is highly unlikely to accept your application and you will have to remain with your present solicitor.

Can I have more than one Legal Aid solicitor?

No. The available public funding for Legal Aid is so tight that every penny really does count when it comes to Legal Aid provision. Having more than one solicitor represent you is a waste of money as well as a headache practically.

Can Legal Aid be backdated?

Historically, backdating of Legal Aid was not possible. This policy was, however, subject to a considerable number of complaints due to delays in issuance of Legal Aid certifications/approvals and the impact that was having on people needing legal representation. In 2019, a new regulation was passed allowing Legal Aid to be backdated when certain criteria were met, but this regulation is only intended to serve civil Legal Aid cases. It is not, as yet, covering criminal Legal Aid cases.

What is the income limit for Legal Aid?

In criminal cases, remember that you always have the right to free legal advice if you’re questioned at a police station. This is given regardless of income or any Legal Aid considerations. You will also automatically get Legal Aid for legal representation in court if you’re under 16 (or under 18 and in full-time education) or on certain benefits.

In civil cases, you will receive Legal Aid automatically if you are claiming Universal Credit. If you are working and have a disposable income of less than £733 per month, you may also be eligible for Legal Aid. You are unlikely to be eligible if you have more than that.

For Non-Molestation Orders and Occupation Orders, there is no upper earnings limit – some Legal Aid will always be available, but you may have to cover some costs.

What is the savings limit for Legal Aid?

If your savings total more than £8,000, you will be ineligible for Legal Aid. See more on the eligibility criteria here.

Can I get Legal Aid if I own a house?

You can, but the amount of equity you have in your home would need to be less than £8,000 (and that assumes you have no savings). Both your savings and home equity are taken into account in means testing, and if you have more than £8,000 in one or the other of these asset classes, you will be ineligible.

What is the Legal Aid statutory charge?

The statutory charge is an amount due back to the Legal Aid Agency if you receive money or other financial gains through your legal case. If the charge is applied, it means you have to pay back your Legal Aid if your case results in you receiving money. This is done to ensure equality in access to legal representation as far as possible.

Do you have to pay back Legal Aid in the UK?

Generally, no. But you will be required to pay a percentage of your aid back if you keep or gain any money or property at the end of your court case. This could be through a lump sum or monthly instalments.

Where to get further help?

If you need more help in navigating the complex world of legal representation, or if you have lost faith in your Legal Aid lawyer, get in touch with the friendly and non-judgmental team at Stuart Miller Solicitors. Get in touch to arrange your free no-obligation consultation today.

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