No matter the circumstances or the criminal offense you’re accused of, you have the right to legal representation. This can be provided by a private criminal defense solicitor of your choice or a duty solicitor. Many people wonder about the difference between the two and whether the advice they offer differs. In this article, we will explore what duty solicitors do, how the duty solicitor scheme operates in the UK, and whether you should choose a duty solicitor or a private solicitor when facing criminal charges.
What is a Duty Solicitor?
Put simply, a duty solicitor is an independent criminal defense solicitor from a local law firm who can assist you if you are suspected or accused of committing a crime. They can represent you at the police station if you’ve been arrested or provide telephone advice if attending in person isn’t necessary. They can also represent you at the Magistrates’ Court. Duty solicitors come from private criminal defense firms that are on the Legal Aid Agency’s list, and they are assigned to police stations based on a rota.
It’s important to note that the quality of the legal representation you receive can vary, as the duty solicitor assigned to you may be an experienced solicitor from a well-regarded firm, a police station representative, or even a paralegal with limited experience. If you’re unsatisfied with the service provided, you can switch to a different solicitor.
Understanding the Duty Solicitor Scheme
The duty solicitor scheme encompasses the official rotas, information, and guidance related to registered duty solicitors in the UK. To become registered under this scheme, a solicitor must have completed a minimum of:
- At least 12 Magistrates’ Court hearings
- At least 12 police station attendances
- An additional 12 hearings or attendances, which could be a combination of Crown Court hearings, Magistrates’ Court hearings, or Magistrates’ Court duty slots.
Are Duty Solicitors Free in the UK?
Duty solicitors in the UK are paid by the Legal Services Commission, the government body responsible for administering legal aid. This means that under the duty solicitor scheme, they do not charge a fee for the legal advice and representation they provide.
How to Obtain a Duty Solicitor
If you’re brought into a police station for questioning, you have the right to free legal advice. At this point, you can request the services of a duty solicitor. The police must also inform you of your right to free legal advice upon arrest and before questioning. Simply ask for the “duty solicitor” at the police station, and they will be available to represent you 24/7, independent of the police. Alternatively, you can inform the police that you’d like legal advice, and they will contact the Defence Solicitor Call Centre (DSCC) on your behalf. If you prefer, you can also request a solicitor of your choice for legal representation.
Should You Use a Duty Solicitor?
People often ask if duty solicitors are competent. It’s important to note that duty solicitors are obligated to provide independent legal advice, meaning they will act in your best interest and not conspire against you, regardless of your case’s circumstances. They must possess a minimum level of experience before performing their duty, ensuring they stay up-to-date with relevant criminal laws and police station procedures.
Although duty solicitors strive to achieve the best possible result for you, there is no guarantee that they will provide the same level of expertise and high-quality legal advice and representation as a privately funded criminal defense solicitor. Duty solicitors may lack extensive experience or expertise, and may not have access to other relevant specialists who can support your defense.
Furthermore, duty solicitors often carry heavy workloads, which can limit their ability to provide tailored advice and personal support during such a challenging time. They are unable to communicate with the prosecution or the police before your court appearance to discuss potential alternatives, such as a police caution or Community Resolution.
Entitlement to Use a Duty Solicitor
Using a duty solicitor is not means-tested, and there are no specific forms you need to fill out. This ensures that everyone can access a duty solicitor if they require legal advice. However, if your case involves additional hearings or trial preparation, you will need to be granted legal aid or pay privately for a criminal defense solicitor.
Duties of a Duty Solicitor
Duty solicitors fulfill two main roles: police station representation and court representation.
Police Station Representation
At the police station, a duty solicitor acts as your representative to protect your interests and ensure your rights are upheld. They can request disclosure from the police regarding the nature of your arrest and the evidence they hold. Before your interview, the duty solicitor will discuss your situation, the evidence against you, and the recommended approach. They also ensure that the police follow proper procedures during this stage and play a vital role in the interview process, ensuring that the police ask relevant questions.
If your case proceeds to court after the police station stage, a duty solicitor can represent you during your first appearance at the Magistrates’ Court. They will ensure your rights are respected, and you have access to impartial legal advice. It’s important to note that duty solicitors can only represent you if you’ve been remanded in custody or face imprisonment if convicted. You are also eligible to use a duty solicitor at this stage if you haven’t received advice from another solicitor.
How to Find Out Who Your Duty Solicitor Is
A comprehensive list of duty solicitors in England and Wales, including their contact details and rotas, can be found here.
Choosing Your Duty Solicitor
The duty solicitor assigned to you at the police station or court depends on the rota for your area. You cannot select a specific solicitor to act as your duty solicitor. However, if you are satisfied with the service provided by a duty solicitor at the police station, you can choose to have them continue representing you. They will apply for a Criminal Representation Order on your behalf if you’re eligible for legal aid. If you’re not eligible, you’ll have to pay privately. Should you be unhappy with a duty solicitor’s service, you can apply to transfer your case to an experienced and specialist criminal defense solicitor.
The process of transferring your case to a different solicitor is relatively straightforward. Fill out a Notice of Change of Solicitor form (usually completed by the new solicitor), sign it, and submit it to the court. If you have a Representation Order (legal aid), additional steps are required to transfer your case, such as submitting an Application to Change Solicitors to the court, which will decide if the transfer is eligible.
Obtaining a Duty Solicitor at Court
To arrange for a duty solicitor at court, call the court in advance of your hearing date and request representation. Procedures may vary slightly between courts, but generally, there will be a rota of duty solicitors from various local law firms. The duty solicitor available on the day of your court hearing will meet with you and advise you on how to proceed. Keep in mind that duty solicitors often have several clients at once, which may result in some delays.
Private Solicitor vs. Duty Solicitor: Which is Worth It?
While duty solicitors are dedicated professionals who work diligently to support you during criminal proceedings, the duty solicitor scheme can limit your access to the strongest possible representation. Particularly in cases involving serious allegations that could lead to severe penalties, and when you’re seeking the dismissal of charges, choosing a private solicitor may be more beneficial. Duty solicitors may have varying levels of expertise and may not fully understand the nuances of your case.
At Garrity Traina, our expert team of criminal defense solicitors possess both extensive experience and a wide range of expertise across various matters. We are well-equipped to provide robust representation and empathetic support, irrespective of your circumstances. Our services are available 24/7, so you can rely on us whenever you need assistance. Click here to learn more about Garrity Traina.
Contact Garrity Traina’s Criminal Law Defense Solicitors Today!
For urgent advice, immediate representation, or confidential discussions regarding potential criminal charges or prosecution, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us. Our specialist criminal defense lawyers are available in London, Birmingham, and Manchester. Reach us via telephone:
- Brent & Camden London Office: 0207 624 7771
- Manchester Office: 0161 835 1638
- Birmingham Office: 0121 614 3333
- City of London: 0207 624 7771 (our senior solicitors and partners can arrange appointments in the City)
Alternatively, you can email us at firstname.lastname@example.org or fill out our quick online enquiry form, and we will promptly respond.
24/7 Legal Representation for Criminal Defense Proceedings
For a free consultation with one of our expert criminal defense solicitors, immediate representation, and advice regarding the allegations you may be facing, please get in touch. We represent clients throughout England and Wales and are available at any time. Call our emergency number at 07836 577 556.