Get help now Make a donation

The courts and mental health

Explains what may happen if you're charged with committing a crime, what happens when you to go court, and how your mental health is taken into account.

Do I need to get legal advice?

Being charged with a crime is very serious. It can sometimes lead to being sent to prison.

If you’ve been charged with a crime, it’s very important to get legal advice from a solicitor. They can help you understand what’s happening and get the best possible outcome. This includes:

  • Explaining what you’re charged with, and the possible outcomes
  • Preparing your defence and gathering evidence for you
  • Representing you at court, or getting a barrister to represent you

How do I get legal advice?

If you’re arrested or interviewed under caution, you have the right to free advice and representation from a solicitor.

To see a solicitor, you can either:

  • Ask to see the duty solicitor at the police station
  • Contact a solicitor yourself – the Law Society can help you find solicitors in your area

Different solicitors specialise in different areas of law:

  • If you've been arrested or charged with a crime, you need a criminal solicitor.
  • If you've been sent to hospital under the Mental Health Act and want to be discharged, you need a mental health solicitor.

Our page on your rights at the police station includes more information on getting free legal advice.

If you’re charged with a crime, you’ll need to get legal advice and representation. Or you’ll need to represent yourself.

If you were advised by a duty solicitor when you were arrested, you might be able to use the same solicitor for your hearing. They can talk to you about this.

You may also be able to get legal aid to help pay for any legal support or representation.

Can I get legal aid?

Legal aid can help meet the costs of legal advice and representation in a court or tribunal. It’s given to people who cannot otherwise afford these costs.

You can get legal aid if you pass two tests. These are the interests of justice test and the means test.

The interests of justice test

This test looks at:

  • The seriousness of the offence
  • The complexity of your case
  • Any disability you may have
  • Whether your mental health makes it more difficult to represent yourself

Usually, you’ll only pass this test if the offence you’re charged with could lead to a prison sentence.

The means test

This test looks at whether you receive any benefits, or if you have a low income. You’ll automatically pass this test if you receive certain benefits, such as:

  • Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA)
  • Universal Credit
  • Income-related Employment and Support Allowance (ESA)

Otherwise, the court will look at your income.

If you do get legal aid, you may have to pay a contribution based on your finances. If you’re eventually found not guilty, the court can order that some or all of these contributions must be repaid to you.


Anton has bipolar disorder. He’s arrested and charged with manslaughter. At the police station, Anton asks to speak to the duty solicitor, who attends the interview with him.

Afterwards, Anton contacts a different firm of solicitors that have been recommended to him. The solicitors advise Anton that he’ll get legal aid throughout the trial because:

  • The charge against him is very serious
  • His mental health makes it more difficult for him to represent himself
  • He is on Universal Credit

What happens if I can't get legal aid?

If you can’t get legal aid, you’ll need to represent yourself at court or pay for a solicitor yourself.

You can get a barrister to represent you without a solicitor. This is by a process called 'direct access'. This will often work out much cheaper than paying for both a solicitor and barrister. The Bar Council Direct Access Portal has more information.

Even if you’re found not guilty, you won’t get back all the money you’ve paid for representation.

This information was published in April 2024. We'll revise it in 2027.

References are available on request. If you would like to reproduce any of this information, see our page on permissions and licensing.

arrow_upwardBack to Top