If you’ve been charged with a criminal offence, you will need to enlist the expert help of a solicitor. Alternatively or in addition, you can use a barrister who is a specialist at arguing cases in court – either your solicitor can engage their services on your behalf, or you can contact one through the Public Access Scheme.
Charged with a Criminal Offence
Initially, you might want to get general advice from an agency such as the Citizens Advice Bureau or a local law centre. They will be able to point you in the right direction in terms of how to progress your case as well as contact details of local solicitors who are experienced in the area of law that you require. You can also find information about appropriate legal advisers at www.gov.uk.
Another key point to bear in mind is that some legal advisers stand above the crowd as members of Accreditation Schemes, meaning they have been assessed and given the official stamp of approval as having expert competence in a particular area of law. To learn more about this, visit www.lawsociety.org.uk.
If you find yourself at a police station or have been charged with a criminal offence for which you could be sent to prison, you can immediately ask for free legal advice under the Duty Solicitors’ Scheme – your request will be passed to the Defence Solicitor Call Centre who will either send a solicitor or let you talk to one on the phone (depending on the severity of the crime). Alternatively, if you already know of a solicitor that you would like to represent you, the Call Centre will contact them for you. If this solicitor’s firm has a contract with the Criminal Defence Service (CDS), their initial advice will be free.
What to Expect from a Solicitor or Barrister
Once you have settled on a solicitor, you will make an appointment to go in and see them. In addition to bringing along all the relevant documents to your case as well as a form of identification such as a current passport or driving licence, you should ask them what other documents they would like to see. It will also be helpful to write down your questions before attending the appointment to be sure you don’t forget anything – at all times you have the right to feel as if you fully understand the procedures and never be afraid to ask questions.
When it comes to the professional standard of a solicitor that you should expect, they are obligated to treat you fairly by:
- Giving you all the information you need to understand whether they are the best solution to your legal problem.
- Providing with clear information on the costs involved.
- Explain how your problem will be handled and the options available to you.
- Tell you about your right to complain if you’re dissatisfied and how to make a complaint (i.e. with the Legal Ombudsman if your complaint with the solicitor firm does not resolve the matter).
- Keep you fully and regularly informed throughout the case as to its progress.
If you are unhappy with your solicitor at any stage, you have the right to terminate their services, request your paper work back and acquire new legal representation. You will however have to pay them for the work they have already completed.
Barristers provide specialist advice on legal rights and they are experts at drafting and sending documents in your behalf as well as representing you in court, tribunals or mediations. While they can deal with most aspects of legal case including negotiations, in some areas you might need to weigh in such as filing documents with the court.
In usual cases your solicitor will approach a barrister to give detailed legal guidance on your case and represent you in court. However if your case will require specialist expertise on law and a complex court case, you can save money by contacting a barrister direct through the Public Access Scheme without going through a solicitor.
This Scheme is available for all types of work that barristers do, with the exception of work funded by legal aid. In other words, if you are eligible for legal aid then it is a solicitor you should see. If however you are not sure whether your case would be suitable for legal aid or the Public Access Scheme, you can go ahead and contact a barrister for advice. For more information about the Scheme, visit www.barcouncil.org.uk.