We hold a Legal Aid franchise with the Legal Aid Agency which means that we can offer free legal advice and representation to those individuals who qualify.
We have set out below a summary of how legal aid works, when it is available and the type of help it covers.
What is legal aid?
Legal aid is the use of public funds to help to pay for legal advice, family mediation and court or tribunal representation. The Legal Aid Agency is in charge of providing legal aid in England and Wales. The Legal Aid Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 governs legal aid from 1 April 2013.
There are usually three considerations for legal aid:
- The matter is within scope for legal aid
- Means test –you are unable to afford your own legal costs.
- Merits test – the likelihood of success, the reasonableness of the costs and whether a reasonable person would use their own money to pay for the case.
Legal aid will pay towards the rates or fixed fees of a solicitor for your case. There are different types of legal aid:
- Legal Help – a solicitor can advise you and negotiate with the other party but cannot represent at court.
- Family mediation – a solicitor can help with negotiating with the other party through mediation.
- Legal Representation – the solicitor can prepare your case and represent you in court or arrange for a barrister to represent you in court.
Legal aid is available for the following family issues:
- family mediation to resolve disputes about children and finance on a relationship breakdown.
- applications for a non-molestation order or occupation order;
- applications for a restraining order under the Protection from Harassment Act 1997;
- applications for a Child Arrangements Order, Prohibited Steps Order or Specific Issue Order if you or your child have suffered or are at risk of violence or abuse from the other party. (Note: the 24 month time limit was challenged in the courts and as of 7 April 2016 the Legal Aid Agency has confirmed that it will accept applications for legal aid with evidence of abuse which is older than 24 months. From 25 April 2016 some evidence of abuse from the last sixty months will be accepted.
- representation for children who are made party to private family law proceedings;
- proceedings brought by the local authority for a care order or supervision order;
- applications for forced marriage protection orders;
- cases where your child has been or is about to be taken out of the UK without your consent;
- exceptional cases if the refusal of legal aid would infringe your rights under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) or your EU rights to legal representation.
- From 10 December 2015 onwards - applications for post-adoption contact under section 51A Adoption and Children Act 2002 where there is evidence of domestic violence or child abuse or for a child who is party to these proceedings.
Most family cases will be means tested; so you will have to show that you cannot afford to pay legal costs. You will be required to give information about your income, benefits, savings, property and shares and those of your partner.
For some cases you can get legal aid regardless of your financial means. Non means tested legal aid is available for you if your child is subject of care or supervision proceedings or if your child has been abducted out of England and Wales. You may qualify for legal aid for some injunctions such as a non-molestation order but you might be required to make a contribution.
During our initial consultation, we will explore with you whether you might be eligible for legal aid. As experts in this area, we will advise you of the evidence required and how you might be able to obtain this to secure legal aid, and thereafter will make any applications on your behalf.