The Criminal Defence Service for England and Walesa was created by the Access to Justice Act 1999 to replace the previous system of criminal legal aid provided for by the Legal Aid Act 1988. The service, which came into being in April 2001, provides those facing criminal charges with such access to ‘advice and assistance’, ‘advocacy assistance’, and ‘representation’ as the interests of justice require. Advice and assistance includes general advice, negotiation, seeking the opinion of a barrister, and preparing a written case. It is not available after charge or summons and does not cover representation in court. Advocacy assistance covers case preparation and initial representation in certain proceedings in both the magistrates' court and the Crown Court. It also may cover representation for those who have failed to pay a civil fine or obey a civil court order of the magistrates' court and are at risk of imprisonment and applications for anti‐social behaviour orders. Representation covers case preparation and legal representation at trial, including pre‐trial issues such as bail. It also covers advice regarding the merits of an appeal against a verdict or sentence of the magistrates' court or the Crown Court, or a decision of the Court of Appeal.
Public funding is only available in cases that meet the ‘interests of justice test’ (sometimes called the ‘means test’). Factors relevant to that determination include whether in the event of conviction, the accused is likely to receive a term of imprisonment, lose his livelihood, or suffer serious damage to his reputation; and whether the proceedings involve consideration of a complex issue of law. With the coming into effect of the Criminal Defence Service Act 2006, from 2 October 2006 criminal legal aid, other than advice and representation at the police station, is also subject to a means test.
See also legal aid; public defender service.