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What Is a Duty Solicitor, and Are They Any Good?

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No matter what your circumstances may be or what criminal offence you may be accused of, you will always be entitled to receive legal representation. This can come in the form of representation from a private criminal defence solicitor of your choice or a duty solicitor.

We are often asked what the difference between using a private solicitor and a duty solicitor is and whether the advice you receive from both will differ.

Here, we discuss exactly what duty solicitors do, how the duty solicitor scheme works in the UK, and whether you should use a duty solicitor or private solicitor if you are accused of a criminal offence.

What is a duty solicitor?

So, what is a duty solicitor? Simply put, they are independent criminal defence solicitors from a local law firm who can assist with defending someone who is suspected or accused of committing a crime. They are able to attend the police station to represent you if you have been arrested or provide telephone advice as opposed to attending in person. Duty solicitors can also attend the Magistrates’ Court.

Duty solicitors come from private criminal defence firms that are on the Legal Aid Agency’s list, with those firms attending police stations according to a rota.

The fact that duty solicitors are assigned according to a rota means that the precise quality of the legal representative you could receive will vary. It may be the case that the duty solicitor assigned is an experienced solicitor from a well-regarded firm, simply a police station representative, or a paralegal with little experience.

It is important to note that you do not need to remain with a duty solicitor for the duration of a case if you are not happy with the service they have provided.

What is the duty solicitor scheme?

The duty solicitor scheme contains the official rotas, information and guidance relating to registered duty solicitors in the UK. To become registered on the duty solicitor scheme, a solicitor needs to have undertaken at least 12 Magistrates’ Court hearings, at least 12 police station attendances, and a further 12 hearings or attendances that could be a combination of Crown Court hearings, Magistrates’ Court hearings or Magistrates’ Court duty slots.

Are duty solicitors in the UK free?

Duty solicitors in the UK are paid by the Legal Services Commission, the government body that administers legal aid. This means, under the duty solicitor scheme, that they do not charge a fee for the legal advice and representation they provide.

How do I get a duty solicitor?

You always have the right to free legal advice if you are brought into a police station for questioning. This is the first point at which you can request the services of a duty solicitor. The police must also inform you of your right to free legal advice when you are arrested and before you are questioned at the police station.

Here, you can ask for the police station’s ‘duty solicitor’. They will be available to represent you 24 hours a day and will be independent of the police.

You can also tell the police that you would simply like legal advice. They will then contact the Defence Solicitor Call Centre (DSCC) on your behalf.

As an alternative to requesting a duty solicitor or requesting legal advice from the (DSCC), you also have the opportunity of telling the police that you would like legal representation from a solicitor of your choosing.

Are duty solicitors any good and should I use one?

We are often asked: ‘are duty solicitors any good?’ Firstly, it is important to outline that duty solicitors are duty bound to provide independent legal advice. This means that, no what the circumstances of your case may be, you can be assured that they will make every effort to act in your interests and will not be conspiring against you in any way.

As mentioned, duty solicitors in the UK must have a minimum level of experience before they are permitted to carry out their role, so this will suggest that they are up to date with the relevant criminal laws and police station procedures.

However, while a duty solicitor will strive to achieve the best possible result for you, there is no guarantee that they will provide the high-quality legal advice and representation and advice you require. This is especially as, in many cases, they do not have the same level of experience or expertise as a privately funded criminal defence solicitor – nor do they have the same access to other relevant specialists that can support criminal law defence.

There is a chance that a duty solicitor will not know the exact details of your case before representing you, and they will not have any regular experience in dealing with the specific type of charges you are facing.

It can also be the case that duty solicitors are frequently overworked and have to handle multiple cases at once, which means they may not be able to provide carefully tailored advice or close personal support during such a difficult time.

Duty solicitors are not able to speak to the prosecution or the police ahead of your Court appearance to discuss any potential out of court disposals, such as a police caution or Community Resolution.

Am I entitled to use a duty solicitor?

Using a duty solicitor is not means tested, and you are not required to fill in any specific forms. This is to ensure that everyone can access a duty solicitor if they require legal advice.

But, if there are any additional hearings related to your case or you need to prepare for a trial, you will need to be granted legal aid or pay privately for a criminal defence solicitor.

What work does a duty solicitor carry out?

The work carried out by a duty solicitor can be split into two – police station representation and court representation.

Police station representation

At the police station, a duty solicitor can act as a representative to make sure that your interests are protected and that your rights are upheld. At this stage, they can request disclosure from the police about the nature of your arrest and the type of evidence the police hold.

A duty solicitor can then meet with you prior to an interview to discuss your situation and the type of evidence the police has against you, as well as the sort of approach that should be taken. A duty solicitor can also act to ensure that all the correct procedures are followed by the police during this stage, as well as playing an important role in the actual interview to ensure the police only ask the right questions.

Court representation

If following the police station stage, your case proceeds to the courts, a duty solicitor can represent you during a first appearance at the Magistrates’. Again, the duty solicitor will make sure that your rights are observed and you have access to impartial legal advice

It is important to note that a duty solicitor can only represent you if you have been remanded in custody, or you could face a period of imprisonment if you are convicted. You are also only eligible to use a duty solicitor at this stage if you are yet to receive any advice from a solicitor.

How do I find out who my duty solicitor was?

A comprehensive list of every duty solicitor in England and Wales, their contact details and rotas can be found here.

Can I choose who my duty solicitor is?

The duty solicitor you are assigned, either at the police station or the court, will depend on the rota for the respective area. You cannot select a specific solicitor to act as a duty solicitor.

However, if you have used a duty solicitor at the police station, you can choose to have them continue representing you. If you are eligible for legal aid, the solicitor will apply for a Criminal Representation Order to continue representing you. If you are not eligible, you will have to pay privately.

If you are unhappy with the service provided by a duty solicitor, you can apply to have your case transferred to an experienced, specialist criminal defence solicitor, such as those here at JD Spicer Zeb.

The formal process for transferring a criminal defence to a different solicitor is relatively straightforward.

Once you have chosen a new solicitor, a Notice of Change of Solicitor form needs to be filled out (which is typically filled out by the new solicitor), signed and then submitted to the Court.

If you have a Representation Order (legal aid), then there are other additional steps that need to be taken to transfer a case over to a new solicitor.

In these cases, a separate Application to Change Solicitors needs to be made to the Court, which will then decide if you are eligible to transfer a Representation Order.

How do I get a duty solicitor at court?

The most straightforward way of arranging for a duty solicitor at court is to call the court in advance of a hearing date and request representation. The exact procedures in each court will vary slightly, but there will generally be a rota of duty solicitors from various local law firms. The duty solicitor that is available on the day of your court hearing will meet with you to advise you on how to proceed.

It is worth remembering that duty solicitors often serve many clients at one time, which can potentially lead to delays in being seen.

Is it worth instructing a private solicitor over a duty solicitor?

While duty solicitors are certainly dedicated, hardworking professionals who will always do their utmost to support you during criminal proceedings, the way the duty solicitor scheme works can prevent you from being able to access the strongest possible representation. This is particularly true where you may be facing allegations of a serious crime that could result in heavy penalties, and you are looking for the police to drop charges against you.

You may be fortunate enough to work with a highly experienced duty solicitor who has substantial expertise in the correct area of criminal law, but equally, you may have to work with someone who has relatively little expertise or does not fully understand the details of your case.

At JD Spicer Zeb, our expert team of criminal defence solicitors have an in-depth and breadth of expertise in a wide range of matters and can be on hand to support and represent you with specialist criminal defence.

Our team have over 40 years of specialist criminal defence expertise and Law Society accredited in Criminal Litigation, meaning we are perfectly positioned to provide robust representation and empathetic support, no matter what your circumstances may be.

We are also available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, to represent you, so you can contact us to speak to a solicitor whenever you need to.

To find out more about our solicitor’s fees, click here.

Contact our criminal law defence solicitors today!

For urgent specialist advice, immediate representation, or to speak to us confidentially about a potential criminal charge or prosecution, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

You can contact our specialist criminal defence lawyers in London, Birmingham and Manchester by telephone on:

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