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Last update: 04-11-2009
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Legal aid - Community law

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A fundamental right throughout the European Union

The third paragraph of Article 47 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union provides that legal aid will be made available to those who lack sufficient resources in so far as such aid is necessary to ensure effective access to justice.

A directive on legal aid in cross-border disputes was adopted in January 2003.

On 27 January 2003 the Council adopted a directive to improve access to justice in cross-border disputes by establishing minimum common rules relating to legal aid for such disputes.

The provisions of this directive apply to "cross-border" civil cases, in other words where the person requesting legal aid does not live in the Member State where the case will be heard or where the decision is to be enforced.

The directive establishes the principle that persons who do not have sufficient resources to defend their rights in law are entitled to receive appropriate legal aid.

The directive lays down the services that must be provided for the legal aid to be considered appropriate:

  • access to pre-litigation advice
  • legal assistance and representation in court
  • exemption from, or assistance with, the cost of proceedings, including the costs connected with the cross-border nature of the case.

The directive also specifies the conditions relating to the applicant's financial resources or the substance of the dispute which may be required by the Member States to award legal aid.

Furthermore, the text provides that legal aid must be granted, under certain conditions, to persons who have recourse to alternative dispute settlement methods.

Lastly, the Council Directive organises certain mechanisms for judicial cooperation between the Member States' authorities designed to facilitate the transmission and processing of legal aid applications. In particular, the directive provides for the possibility for a person to submit their application in their country of residence, which must then transmit it, rapidly and free of charge, to the authorities of the country which is to grant the aid.

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The directive should have been transposed into national law at the latest on 30 November 2004. At that date, the Member States should also have communicated certain useful information for the application of the directive (competent authorities, the means for receiving applications and acceptable languages for the establishment of applications). Two standard forms for requests of legal aid and their transmission between Member States have been established by Commission decisions in 2004 and 2005. For more information, you can consult the “Legal aid” section of the European Judicial Atlas in civil matters.

The Directive on legal aid applies between all Member States of the European Union with the exception of Denmark.

Reference documents

  • Council Directive 2003/8/EC of 27 January 2003 to improve access to justice in cross-border disputes by establishing minimum common rules relating to legal aid for such disputes
  • Commission Decision of 30 April 2003 establishing a form for the transmission of legal aid applications (soon to be published in the Official Journal)
  • Commission Decision No 2004/844/EC of 9 November 2004 establishing a form for legal aid applications under Council Directive 2003/8/EC to improve access to justice in cross-border disputes by establishing minimum common rules relating to legal aid for such dispute
  • 2005/630/EC: Commission Decision of 26 August 2005 establishing a form for the transmission of legal aid applications under Council Directive 2003/8/EC 
  • Green Paper from the Commission - Legal aid in civil matters: the problems confronting the cross - border litigant
  • Amsterdam Treaty (Articles 61to 67)
  • Conclusions of the Tampere European Council (point 30)
  • Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (Article 47)

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Last update: 04-11-2009

 
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