Legal aid - France
TABLE OF CONTENTS
What are the costs of a trial and who should normally pay them?
What is legal aid?
Can I benefit from legal aid?
Can legal aid be obtained for all disputes?
Is there a specific procedure for emergencies?
Where can I obtain an application form for legal aid?
Which documents should I attach to my request for legal aid?
Where should I register my request for legal aid?
How will I be informed of whether or not I am eligible for legal aid?
If I qualify for legal aid, what should I do?
If I qualify for legal aid, who will choose my lawyer?
If I qualify for legal aid, will this cover all the costs of my trial?
If I qualify for partial legal aid, who will pay the other costs?
If I qualify for legal aid, will it cover any review I might make following the trial?
If I qualify for legal aid, can it be withdrawn before the end of the trial (or even after the trial)?
If I do not qualify for legal aid, can I appeal against this decision?
1. What are the costs of a trial and who should normally pay them?
The costs of a court action depend on the nature and complexity of the case and the procedure and the court hearing the action.
A distinction can be made between three categories of costs:
- Lawyer’s fees, for which there is no fixed scale - lawyer and client are free to agree on the rate which the client generally has to pay unless he is eligible for legal aid;
- Court costs, enumerated exhaustively in section 695 of the new Code of Civil Procedure and consisting mainly of:
- Refreshers for advocates (and avoués in the Appeal Court); refreshers are distinct from basic fees;
- Court bailiffs’ procedural charges;
- Judicial examination and investigation charges;
- Witnesses’ allowances (fixed scale);
- Advocates’ hearing fees;
- Disbursements: these are costs corresponding to trial-related outlays by practitioners, repayable on a fixed scale.
Court costs are borne by the losing party, under section 696 of the new Code of Civil Procedure. But the court may by reasoned decision order the other party to pay them in whole or in part, in which case it specifies how they are to be shared.
Other costs incurred by the parties: as a rule they bear these costs themselves, unless the court decides otherwise, in both criminal and civil proceedings. The court gives its decision on an equitable basis, having regard also to the losing party’s ability to pay. The court has the power to order that no costs order be made.
In criminal proceedings the State bears the costs of justice. People convicted
of an offence must pay a fixed charge for the proceedings, based on
the seriousness of the offence.
2. What is legal aid?
The current legal aid scheme (which replaced the older one dating from legislation of 1972) is governed by the Legal Aid Act (No 91-647 of 10 July 1991) and Decree No 91-1266 of 18 December 1991. It covers:
- Legal aid proper: financial aid for court proceedings
and out-of-court settlement proceedings;
- Aid towards advocates’ fees in criminal proceedings
that are available as an alternative to prosecution (settlement
and mediation), for legal assistance for those held by the police
for questioning, and for disciplinary proceedings in prisons;
- access to the law (information, guidance, free
Legal aid entitles the recipient to free assistance from an advocate
or other legal practitioner (bailiff, avoué, notary, auctioneer,
etc.) and to exemption from court costs.
3. Can I benefit from legal aid?
Legal aid is given by the legal aid bureau at the Regional Court subject to requirements as to resources, nationality, residence and admissibility.
You may receive legal aid if the average of your combined
resources for the preceding calendar year (excluding family allowances
and certain welfare benefits) does not exceed a certain threshold
set by statute each year.
For example, legal aid applications made in 2004 are examined
on the basis of resources received in 2003. From 1 January 2004
the monthly resources limit for a single person is €830 for full
legal aid and €1244 for partial legal aid.
In both cases, the limit is raised by €149 for the first two dependants
and by €94 for the third and subsequent dependants.
If your resources exceed the limits, you may still be able to
receive legal aid exceptionally if your action
is particularly worthy of interest given its subject-matter and
the likely cost (section 6 of the 1991 Act).
The resources statement is not required if you are entitled to benefits from the National Solidarity Fund or to the Occupational Integration Minimum Income, or if you are entitled to a war veteran’s or victim’s pension.
You are entitled to legal aid if you are a French national or a citizen of the European Union or a foreign national habitually lawfully residing in France.
You are also entitled to legal aid for a case in a French court if, although you are a foreign national not residing in France, you are a national of a State that has an international or bilateral agreement with France giving entitlement to legal aid.
Apart from the cases mentioned above, habitual and lawful residence in France is required as a matter of principle.
But exceptionally it is not compulsory where the claimant’s action is particularly worthy of interest given its subject-matter and the likely cost.
Legal aid is also given without a residence requirement to foreign nationals who are minors, witnesses, placed under formal examination, charged, accused, convicted or have joined a civil action to a criminal prosecution, or where the action concerns entry and residence in France.
Legal aid is given if the action is not manifestly inadmissible or devoid of substance. This condition does not apply to defendants, to persons liable civilly, to witnesses, to persons under examination, charged or accused, or to persons convicted.
In cassation cases, legal aid will be refused if the applicant cannot show good grounds for cassation.
Where legal aid has been refused on this basis but the court upholds the appellant’s claim, the appellant is eligible for reimbursement of the various costs and fees incurred by him up to the amount of the legal aid to which his resources entitled him.
4. Can legal aid be obtained for all disputes?
Legal aid is given to claimants and defendants in contentious and non-contentious matters in all courts.
It can be given for all or part of the proceeding and to assist in coming to a settlement before the action comes to trial.
Legal aid can also be given for the purposes of seeking enforcement
of a judgment or other enforceable document.
5. Is there a specific procedure for emergencies?
Provisional admission may be decided where the proceeding jeopardises the applicant’s essential living conditions, particularly in enforcement and eviction cases. Both the chairman of the legal aid bureau and the relevant court and its president are empowered to take such decisions.
In criminal cases, the procedure allows legal aid to be given in cases of urgency (police custody, initial questioning, immediate summary trial and similar situations). It is given in the course of the proceeding and covers all acts of procedure.
6. Where can I obtain an application form for legal aid?
You can obtain a legal aid application form from the Regional Court or the District Court for the place where you are habitually resident or where the case will be brought.
If you are a French national resident abroad, the form can also be applied for in consulates and the
Civil and commercial judicial aid bureau:
Bureau de l’entraide judiciaire en matière civile et commerciale
Direction des affaires civiles et du sceau
Ministère de la Justice, 13 place Vendôme, 75042 Paris Cedex 01.
If you are a foreign national not resident in France, you can obtain the legal aid form from the central authority designated by your country for transmitting international legal aid applications. Most countries have designated their Ministry of Justice. France has designated the above-mentioned department of its Ministry of Justice - the Civil and commercial judicial aid bureau – as empowered to send and receive applications.
7. Which documents should I attach to my request for legal aid?
The legal aid application form must be filled in and the supporting documents specified in it must be attached; these concern financial resources (your own and those of people who live in your home), the subject of your application and the court concerned.
8. Where should I register my request for legal aid?
You can send your application to the Legal Aid Bureau for the area where you live or where the court is.
There is a single legal aid bureau at each Regional Court, which handles applications for legal aid for cases in that court itself and in other courts in its area: District Courts, Administrative Courts, Industrial Relations Tribunals, Court of Appeal and Administrative Court of Appeal.
The exception from this single bureau rule is that there is a bureau attached to each of the following:
- Court of Cassation;
- Conseil d'État (which is the supreme administrative court);
- Refugees Appeal Board.
9. How will I be informed of whether or not I am eligible for legal aid?
You will be notified of the legal aid bureau’s decision at your home.
10. If I qualify for legal aid, what should I do?
Contact your advocate (or other legal practitioner – bailiff, avoué, notary, etc.) or the one designated to handle your case, and give him all the information and documents he needs.
If you have obtained partial legal aid, you must come to an agreement as to the supplementary fees to be paid. This should be a written agreement which you should sign.
11. If I qualify for legal aid, who will choose my lawyer?
All litigants are free to choose their own advocate.
If you choose your advocate, you must give his name on the legal aid application form.
If you do not know an advocate, one will be designated for you by the president of the bar for the Regional Court.
12. If I qualify for legal aid, will this cover all the costs of my trial?
If you receive full legal aid, this will cover all the costs of the proceedings, including the fees paid direct to the advocate or other practitioners (bailiff, avoué, notary, etc.). These fees are calculated on a fixed scale depending on the type of procedure.
13. If I qualify for partial legal aid, who will pay the other costs?
You may be given partial legal aid at one of six rates depending on your resources (85%, 70%, 55%, 40%, 25% or 15%), borne by the State. You will have to pay a supplementary fee, not on a fixed scale but agreed between you and the advocate, reviewable by the president of the bar, whom you can approach in the event of a dispute.
If you receive partial legal aid, you will not have to pay any other costs of the proceedings, as in the case of full legal aid.
14. If I qualify for legal aid, will it cover any review I might make following the trial?
Legal aid may be refused at the cassation stage if you cannot show that you have a serious ground for cassation.
15. If I qualify for legal aid, can it be withdrawn before the end of the trial (or even after the trial)?
Legal aid can be withdrawn (section 50 of the 1991 Act) during or after the proceedings if:
- aid was obtained on the basis of inaccurate statements or documents;
- in the course of the proceedings you receive such resources that legal aid would not have been given if you had had them at the time of the application;
- as a result of the enforceable judgment you receive such resources that legal aid would not have been given if you had had them at the time of the application; or
- the proceedings that you have commenced with the legal aid is found to be dilatory or abusive.
16. If I do not qualify for legal aid, can I appeal against this decision?
If you are refused legal aid, you can appeal, either:
- By asking the legal aid bureau to review your application if the grounds for the refusal were based on your resources; or
- If the refusal was for other reasons, by filing a challenge with the president of the Regional Court to which the relevant legal aid bureau is attached. In this case, no further appeal is possible.
Legal aid may be given with retroactive effect where a party has commenced an action and won it but legal aid was refused on the ground that the action had no reasonable prospect of success.
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