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:
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.
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.
Last update: 04-11-2009