What is criminal law?
The criminal law sets out the definitions of criminal offences and the rules and procedures that apply when:
- the police investigate an offence they allege you have committed
- the prosecuting authorities charge you, and
- you must appear in a criminal court
If you admit the offence or are found guilty, the court will impose a punishment on you, ranging from fines, community orders and imprisonment.
Criminal law solicitors will help you if you are suspected or accused of a crime.
When the police allege that you have committed a criminal offence, solicitors can represent you to make sure your legal rights are protected and to present your case in court to make sure you get a fair hearing.
There are a wide range of criminal offences. They include offences of violence such as murder and manslaughter, sexual offences and non-sexual assaults.
Dishonesty offences include fraud and theft and offences against property include arson and criminal damage.
There are crimes against justice, such as perjury, or giving false evidence under oath, and perverting the course of justice.
Criminal law solicitors will use their knowledge and experience to ensure the best outcome for you and your case.
Road traffic offences
Road traffic offences include speeding, drink driving, careless or dangerous driving.
For many people, road traffic offences are their only experience with the police and courts. It is important to find a solicitor who has specialist experience of handling traffic offences who can advise you through the legal process.
For minor road traffic offences, you are likely to get a fine, and / or points on your driving licence. For more serious road traffic offences, such as causing injury or death by dangerous driving, as well as losing your driving licence, you could face going to prison if you are found guilty.
When should I contact a solicitor?
Contact a solicitor as soon as you become aware that you are being accused of an offence.
Whether you are innocent or guilty of a criminal or road traffic offence, you need the support of a specialist criminal law solicitor as soon as you are aware that you are suspected or accused of a crime.
You should contact a solicitor even before you speak to the police or go to a police station (if possible), so they can tell you what to expect, and explain what your rights are.
Why should I have a solicitor at the police station?
Being suspected of a criminal offence and being questioned by the police, either in a police station or in some other place such as your home, can be an unfamiliar and scary experience, so it is important that you have the support of a solicitor as soon as possible.
Your solicitor is there to represent your interests and make sure your rights are protected.
Solicitors are independent of the police, so they will always advise what is best for you and your case.
It is your legal right to a have a solicitor free of charge while you are under arrest or voluntarily attending a police station, or being interviewed by the police, as a suspect, anywhere.
You can ask the police to contact your own solicitor or, if you don’t have a solicitor or they are unavailable, ask for a duty solicitor, who are available 24/7.
It doesn't matter how much money you have as this service is not means-tested – it's free for everyone.
What is legal aid?
If you are charged with a criminal offence you may be able to access legal aid.
If you are eligible for legal aid this means that a government agency – the Legal Aid Agency – will pay your solicitor some, or all, of your legal fees.
Criminal law legal aid is means-tested and so will depend on your income and what assets you have.
Legal aid also depends on the nature of the offence you are charged with, and what court you need to go to. You may have to pay a contribution towards your legal expenses to the Legal Aid Agency.
Criminal law solicitors can help you to apply for legal aid.
If you do not qualify for legal aid you may wish to instruct a solicitor on a private fee-paying basis.
If you are charged, you will be asked to appear before a magistrates' court. This is where less serious offences (for example, minor criminal damage, or speeding offences) are tried.
There is no jury at a magistrates' court.
If your case is more serious or complex, or you have requested trial by jury, your case could be sent to a Crown court.
Crown courts deal with more serious cases. If you plead not guilty, your case will be heard in front of a judge and jury of 12 people, who will decide whether you are guilty or innocent, after they have heard all the evidence.
Why should I have a solicitor in court?
A criminal law solicitor will advise you about details of the case that the prosecuting authority alleges against you, and your options to plead guilty or not guilty to the charge. They will advise you about the likely sentence you may face if you plead, or are found, guilty.
If you are pleading not guilty, your solicitor will assist you to understand the legal procedures and help you prepare your side of the story, so that you can have a fair trial.
Your solicitor will help you to understand the evidence that the police and prosecution are presenting against you and will gather evidence that supports your case.
Solicitors can help by contacting witnesses or seeking expert reports to challenge the evidence against you. They may in some cases suggest instructing an advocate – a barrister or solicitor advocate – who will present your case in the court.
If you plead or are found guilty, your solicitor can help you by gathering and presenting material to the court pointing out any mitigating circumstances and explanations to persuade the court to reduce any sentence of imprisonment or fine.
How do I find a solicitor to help me with criminal law?
To find a solicitor who can help you with criminal law, visit our Find a Solicitor website and use the quick search option "Crime" to find your nearest criminal law solicitor.
By choosing a law firm which belongs to the Criminal Litigation Scheme, your solicitor will meet the high standards for criminal law set by the Law Society.
While we have made every effort to provide accurate information, the law is always changing and affects each person differently. This information is no substitute for specific advice about you personally and we will not be liable to you if you rely on this information.