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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. This is a critical article based on our experience since the scheme started decades ago. 

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 at the Police Station or at Court. They can attend the police station to represent you if you have been arrested or provide telephone advice as opposed to attending in person. They are entitled to send out a trained representative to the police station rather than attending themselves. Duty solicitors who are qualified lawyers can only attend the Magistrates’ Court on a rota to act for unrepresented defendants facing imprisonable matters generally.  A Duty Solicitor from J D Spicer Zeb will be first class as we only employ the best so Call us on 0207 624 7771 or Email Solicitors@jdspicer.co.uk.

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 to simply a police station representative who could be 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. They need to undertake 4 duty attendances out of potentially up to 100 they could attend at a police station in a year. This is highlighted so you can see you are not likely to see a solicitor but an accredited representative at the Police Station. 

Are duty solicitors in the UK free?

Duty solicitors in the UK are paid by the Legal Aid Agency, 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?

At The Police Station

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 to tell the police that you would like legal representation from a solicitor of your choosing.

At Court 

You can also request a Duty Solicitor at the magistrate's Court on your first hearing when facing an imprisonable offence. 

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 true as, in many cases, they do not always have the same level of experience or expertise /resources 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 at times.

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.

The legal aid agency is taking steps to ensure new Duty Solicitors have passed exams and a written portfolio. Older Duty Solicitors were admitted based on an interview more than 25 years ago.

Reasons Not To Use  A Duty Solicitor - 

  • If you get a less experienced one
  • As they pick up the case on the day
  • If you face serious charges
  • Many are reluctant to do the work as it is very poorly paid by fixed fee and not the hour save in very complex cases lasting hours
  • Bad advice such as No Comment to reduce the time they spend with you so they can be free to do other work
  • They may only be doing the Rota in the hope of getting a better case or cases that will lead to further legal aid
  • They may not be employed by the solicitors firm or work there regularly for you to have follow-up work arranged adequately 
  • If they are not good with IT skills as may not be able to view things like CCTV or body-worn footage etc
  • If they are tired having worked long hours or nights on call
  • They are doing multiple cases and may be getting other calls or emails at the same time
  • They are distracted by dealing with difficult/disruptive or violent clients at the same time or day
  • High chance at the Police Station the representative will not be a fully qualified solicitor but an accredited representative with not even a Law degree or even any experience working in a solicitor's office
  • Reasonable chance the Police Station representative is an ex retired Police Officer or this is not a full-time job but fitted in with other personal arrangements
  • The firm may not have adequate systems in place to do swift follow-up work or Private Client Work for you

Having said all of these things many duty solicitor are fully on the ball and professional.

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 before 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 have 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 other additional steps 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 who 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 when 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:

Or email: solicitors@jdspicer.co.uk

Alternatively, you can fill out our quick online enquiry form, and we will get back to you quickly.

24/7 legal representation for criminal defence proceedings

Please get in touch for a free consultation with one of our expert criminal defence solicitors, as well as immediate representation and advice for the allegations you may be facing.

We are available to represent clients all over England and Wales at any time, so please contact our Emergency Number at 07836 577 556.

Bespoke Private Fee Service

If you believe your case is likely to have serious consequences for you now, or in the future and you have the means to pay for this service

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Do we offer free consultations? 

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How can we help?

Common questions

We always work with the most experienced and best leading UK barristers, KCs (Kings Counsel). We cover all criminal cases 24/7 at the police station and court. Offices in London, Birmingham, and Manchester cover cases across England and Wales. We can offer Legal Aid and affordable Private fee agreements. We can see you the same day, including virtually. Our Senior Partners supervise all of our cases.

How quickly do you respond?

We respond quickly even during out of hours. We do not get our work by paying for online adverts but based on the fact that few criminal law firms can match our 45 years of experience. Most of our cases are still from word-of-mouth recommendations from satisfied clients. We are called daily by dissatisfied clients from firms with less experience than us. We respond very quickly to new enquiries. We know what clients seek and so we update clients rapidly.

Can you get cases dropped?

Yes, read about the recent cases we've helped our clients with here.

We always keep you updated and give straightforward advice. We will get cases dropped early where the case is weak or should not be prosecuted. We will be upfront with you about where you can benefit from a good result with an early guilty plea, such as a discount on your sentence. As we work on cases across all levels with clients from all walks of life, we are excellent at giving clear, spot-on advice. As an established firm, we can allocate a whole team to your case often at short notice to secure evidence to minimise the damage to you. 

Have you won any awards?


"JD Spicer Zeb demonstrated a clear commitment to client service through their work with vulnerable and diverse individuals in what can be severely traumatic circumstances".

Do you offer free consultations?

Where it is possible, we aim to provide an initial consultation to you. If we can speak to you, we can if required inform you about  –

  • Whether we can take the case on and our relevant experience.
  • Public and private funding benefits.
  • Assistance in applying for legal aid where we are likely to accept instructions.
  • An outline of options in police interview only. We will not advise you on which option to adopt.
  • Providing our free written guide explaining the police station process.
  • The gravity of routine and day-to-day offences you face.
  • Consequences of not attending the court or police station.
  • Consequences of interfering with any witnesses.
  • Retaining any evidence in support of your case.
  • If possible an outline of the elements of the offence that the police or CPS must prove.
  • This consultation will normally be by telephone or email and will only be for as long as we deem necessary to establish if we can act for you. If we cannot usefully give you any advice in this manner then we will not continue with the consultation. We will not discuss the case in depth for you to be able to decide on your plea or any significant aspect of the case, as this cannot be undertaken informally.
  • Referring you, if possible, to other firms for matters out of our specialism or if we cannot help.

Consultations do not apply to the following cases –

  • If we do not intend to take the case on.
  • Road Traffic cases, drink driving, drug driving, driving bans, speeding, no insurance, mobile phone use, points etc.
  • In all cases where we do not have the capacity to take your case or the availability of suitably qualified staff to provide an initial free consultation. This is applicable in all cases but especially where a more senior lawyer is required because of your personal needs or the complexity of the case.
  • Harassment/stalking/ coercive behaviour/malicious communications or road traffic cases and most sensitive cases. These cases are often too complicated to assess in short consultations.
  • The locations concerned may be too distant to represent you adequately or it may not be cost-effective for you or us.
  • The case is too complicated to assess or raises various charges or facts, complexity, or history to be considered informally or in a short consultation.
  • In most Legal aid transfers where legal aid is granted to another firm except in very grave cases, we may assess the case and merits for a transfer.
  • If your relationship has broken down with your existing solicitor or several solicitors.
  • If you have been released under investigation and have already had a police station attendance. 
  • If you hold legal aid with another firm and seek a second opinion.
  • If you are calling on behalf of the client as a friend or family member unless you have full authority and full facts.
  • To businesses.
  • Advising whether you were given good advice by your other solicitor.
  • Whether to decide to plead guilty or not guilty.
  • Whether you have an arguable defence in law or factually complicated defences.
  • Any advice you have had after your first court appearance.
  • Any advice on appeal on conviction or sentence.
  • If we feel we are unable to communicate with you.
  • If we are likely to be conflicted or breach our professional rules.