2. Is there any case merits screening (case merits test) before I can obtain Legal Aid for criminal cases?
In general, there will be no case merits test on your case if you are facing a criminal charge. However, you need to go through the case merits test if you want to appeal against conviction or sentence.
Under the regulations, subject to the financial means test, legal aid will be granted if the Director of Legal Aid is satisfied that it is desirable in the interests of justice to do so. Everyone is presumed innocent until he is proved guilty and so the interests of justice generally require legal representation be given to an accused person who cannot afford the legal costs for hiring private lawyers for dealing with a criminal charge. Legal aid will therefore generally be granted to an accused person for dealing with a criminal charge so long as he can satisfy the financial means test. In other words, there is no case merits screening for committal proceedings or for trials in the District Court or High Court.
But if an applicant has been convicted and wants to obtain legal aid for appeal, the Director of Legal Aid must further be satisfied that the applicant has meritorious grounds of appeal. In other words, for appeal cases, the applicant must satisfy both the means test and the merits test.