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What you need to know

We give funding to help people who qualify get legal advice, or for a solicitor to act for them in court.


Criminal legal assistance can include advice and assistance and criminal legal aid. The help you can get will depend on:

Your solicitor can tell you more about what help you are likely to get.

Click on the sections below to find out more about:



Advice and assistance, and assistance by way of representation (ABWOR)

Advice and assistance may just be advice from a solicitor about your case, or it may be advice from a solicitor if you are a suspect in a police station or in some cases (ABWOR) your solicitor may be able to act for you in court.

This may be free or you may have to pay a contribution towards the cost of your case. The amount will depend on your income and savings or property you own. Your solicitor must tell you at the beginning of your case the most you will have to pay, if anything, for advice and assistance. You pay this direct to your solicitor.

Use our online calculator to see if you qualify financially for advice and assistance and to see what contribution you might need to pay.


What is criminal legal aid?

Criminal legal aid is only available after you have pled not guilty, or in more serious cases, when you first appear in court.

If you qualify for criminal legal aid it is always free. You will not have to pay anything towards the cost of the case - although you may have to pay for any advice and assistance you have received before legal aid is granted.

Your solicitor will help you to apply for legal aid, if necessary.

When and how do you contact a solicitor?

If you think you need the help of a legal aid solicitor, you should contact one as soon as possible if you:

  • have been served with a penalty/fine/direct measure/other alternative to going to court and you want to go to court to challenge this
  • you are a suspect at a police station
  • are in custody in a police cell
  • have been released to later appear in court
  • have received a letter telling you to go to court to face criminal charges. 

A legal aid solicitor must be on the Criminal Legal Assistance Register. You can check the register to see if a solicitor is listed, or to find your nearest registered solicitor.

We also directly employ solicitors and solicitor advocates in the Public Defence Solicitors’ Office (PDSO). PDSO is a network of publicly funded, specialist criminal defence lawyers with experience of dealing with all types of criminal cases.

If you are a suspect at a police station and you want to speak to your solicitor (if you have one) or would like a solicitor, the police will contact your named solicitor. If they aren't available, or you don't already have a solicitor, you can speak to one of our solicitors by telephone or the duty solicitor can attend the police station to speak to you. 

What do I need to take when I first see a solicitor?

You must show that you are financially eligible or your solicitor cannot do any work for you. They need to know about your income, savings and children or other people you are supporting. You may also have to give information about a partner if they live with you. You should, for example, take:

  • bank statements, recent wage slips or if you are self-employed, accounts
  • pension payment advice from an ex-employer, pension or benefit book
  • current benefits award letters or notifications for assistance
  • details of all savings or accounts such as bank/building society/post office statement or passbook.   

You should also take any paperwork that the police, courts or procurator fiscal have given to you. 

If you are in custody your legal aid solicitor will tell you what you need to do to show what your financial situation is. We check with the Department for Work and Pensions, banks and employers to make sure the information we get from applicants is accurate. 

The information you give must be true and complete – if it is not, we may withdraw any legal aid we grant you, you may have to repay the cost of legal aid you have received for your case and you could face criminal charges if you have misled us or your solicitor. 


When is it possible to use a Duty Solicitor?

In some circumstances you can use the duty solicitor. You can use the duty solicitor if you are in custody, or if you have been released but promised to appear in court later. 

A duty solicitor is available at every sheriff and JP court in Scotland, and can represent you at your first appearance in court and sometimes for the rest of the case. You won’t have to pay for using the duty solicitor.  

If you are not in custody and are cited to appear in court, you cannot use the duty solicitor and would have to use your own solicitor.


Criminal legal aid for less serious charges – summary cases

For these cases you will normally have to apply to us through your solicitor. You will have to show you are financially eligible, and that it is “in the interests of justice” to grant legal aid – in short, that it would be unfair to you, the court, or someone else if you did not have a solicitor.


Criminal legal aid if the charges are more serious – solemn cases

These include:

  • murder, rape, robbery
  • serious drugs cases
  • large thefts
  • serious assault. 

If you are accused in a solemn case, you are automatically entitled to legal aid while you are in custody, until:

  • a decision is made about whether to grant you legal aid, or
  • you are given bail.

You can choose to use the duty solicitor or your own solicitor. After that you should apply for criminal legal aid – your solicitor will help you to do this. 

SLAB  only has to consider whether paying your own legal costs would cause too much hardship to you or your dependants.


What if SLAB refuses to give me legal aid?

If we refuse your application, we will tell you and your solicitor the reasons for this decision. You or your solicitor can ask us to reconsider our decision – you have 10 days to do so from the date we refuse the application.

If you ask us to reconsider the decision, make sure you tell us the reasons why we should.


Quick links

Legal Aid News

27, Jun, 2019

SLAB welcomes launch of public consultation on legal aid

Read article

13, Jun, 2019

contactSCOTLAND BSL service extended

Read article

08, Mar, 2019

SLAB welcomes new legal aid advisory panel

Read article

12, Dec, 2018

Annual Report 2017-18 published

Read article

19, Oct, 2018

Make payment to us online through SLABPAY

Read article