There are various stages at which you might want to take legal advice from a solicitor. The first stage is on arrest when your child has been taken to the police station. You are likely to be called upon to attend the police station to act as an ‘appropriate adult’ to support your child. Young people under the age of 17 must have an appropriate adult with them when they are interviewed by the police. That appropriate adult can be a family member, friend or often a volunteer or health care professional and there are groups of trained volunteers who can do this as well. This can happen by appointment with a police officer when you and your child attend the police station for a prearranged arrest.
There will be a stage when you are asked if you want a lawyer. You can either make your own arrangements where you may have to pay privately for their attendance (if the solicitor does not undertake legal aid work). If the solicitor has a legal aid contract with the Criminal Defence Service then he may be prepared to advise your child or you can ask for the duty solicitor who will be assigned to you from a panel of local solicitors who undertake legal aid work.
If you choose not to instruct a solicitor at the police station and your child is charged or summonsed with an offence you may then wish to instruct a solicitor to represent him or her. You should make contact with a solicitor as soon as possible who can advise you as to whether legal aid will be available or not. You can find out more information and contact details from the Legal Services Commission and the Law Society’s web sites. If legal aid is not available and you still wish to have your child represented, you can always ask a solicitor to give you an estimate or quote as to their likely charges.
The final time when you might come into contact with a solicitor is if you have chosen not to instruct one and arrive at court and decide you would like legal advice or if the court feels that you would benefit from legal advice. In these circumstances, you may be directed to a court duty solicitor. You should note that the court duty solicitor can only advise in limited circumstances and cannot undertake trials or advise on certain ‘low level’ offences (for example crimes which do not carry a custodial sentence) as these do not fall within the scope of their remit. It is for this reason that if you want your child to be represented early contact with a solicitor after charge or summons is essential.
Thanks to Andrew Keogh, criminal defence lawyer and editor of CrimeLine for his help with this section and an earlier version which appeared in A Parent’s Guide to the Law by Jon Robins (LawPack , 2009). We’re grateful also to Kim Evans for her help.