Criminal legal aid exists to ensure that defendants who cannot afford to pay their own defence costs are still able to access legal services when needed. Without this system, some people would be unable to obtain legal advice and representation. This could in turn lead to unfair trials and "inequality of arms" between the prosecution, on the one hand, and the defendant, on the other. Legal aid also helps to protect the rights of defendants and can serve to reduce burdens on the courts.
The Criminal Defence Service is run by the Legal Services Commission and its aims are:
- to ensure that the Government meets its statutory and international obligations which provide that:
- people arrested and held in custody have the right to consult a solicitor privately at any time; and
- defendants have a right to defend themselves in person, or through legal assistance of their own choosing; or, if they have insufficient means to pay for legal assistance, to be given it free when the interests of justice so require;
- to help ensure that suspects and defendants receive a fair hearing at each stage in the criminal justice process; and in particular that they can state their case on an equal footing with the prosecution;
- to protect the interests of the suspect or defendant; and
- to maintain the suspect's or defendant's confidence in the system, and facilitate his or her effective participation in the process.