Legal aid is a service designed to help people who cannot afford legal advice or cannot go through the proceedings at a time when they need to. Legal aid gives those with less financial clout the ability to get legal help that they could not afford otherwise. Legal aid is supported by public funding, and run and administered by the Legal Services Commission.
You can also apply for legal aid even if it was not used to fund your case originally. If you have any increases or decreases in capital during the period of funding, you will have to inform the Legal Services Commission, so they can re-assess your funding.
Legal aid is currently facing a number of changes – current austerity measures being introduced by the government mean that legal aid could be on the receiving end of a great deal of cuts, potentially limiting access to the law for a great deal of people. However, resistance to these cuts has been fierce, and there are still plenty of people that can benefit from the help of legal aid.
How can legal aid help?
The amount of legal counsel given will obviously depend on the case, but help would generally include initial advice and assistance, representation in court and help throughout the legal procedure, as well as providing family help and initiating family proceedings.
Legal representation is a common use of legal aid – this could help a participant in a legal case to fund legal representation when they would be otherwise unable to.
Legal representation comes in two forms – Investigative Help and Full Representation. Full Representation is more likely where the case and the potential outcome of successful proceedings are clear.
Where the case is not so clear, Investigative Help may be more appropriate. Investigative Help is intended as preparation for potential Full Representation, to establish whether the case is worth Full Representation. Investigative Help is not available for family law cases.
Common legal problems that could require legal aid include divorce, debt, immigration and general family cases where the aid will cover the majority of proceedings including representation. There are exceptions in which legal aid cannot be used, including Coroner’s Court and most tribunals.
Certain areas of the law are off-limits in terms of legal aid provision. For instance, legal aid cannot be sought if your case is regarding defamation, personal injury or conveyancing. Legal aid will usually be denied if you are seeking help for making a Will – however, exceptions are sometimes made for those who are disabled or over 70.
Other exceptions may be made if there is an imperative need for a parent to make a Will, if the Will is needed benefit their disabled child, or to appoint a legal guardian.
If you need legal help for a case ineligible for legal aid, there may be alternative ways to fund your case. Many no win no fee solicitors specialise in personal injury cases, for instance.
Legal aid outside the UK
It is important to know that for cases outside England and Wales you can still receive legal aid, providing that the case is referred by the court to the European Court. However, legal aid will only provide for civil cases, and not criminal cases.
There have been other cases where parties from abroad have been able to use legal aid to bring a case in a UK court – in human rights cases against British companies, for example.