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Last update: 11-04-2006
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Legal aid - Northern Ireland

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TABLE OF CONTENTS

1. What are the costs of a trial and who should normally pay them? 1.
2. What is legal aid? 2.
3. Can I benefit from legal aid? 3.
4. Can legal aid be obtained for all legal disputes? 4.
5. Is there a specific procedure for emergencies? 5.
6. Where can I obtain an application for legal aid? 6.
7. Which documents should I attach to my request for legal aid? 7.
8. Where should I register my request for legal aid? 8.
9. How will I be informed of whether or not I am eligible for legal aid? 9.
10. If I qualify for legal aid, what should I do? 10.
11. If I qualify for legal aid, who will chose my lawyer? 11.
12. If I qualify for legal aid, will this cover all the costs of my trial? 12.
13. If I qualify for partial legal aid, who will pay the other costs? 13.
14. If I qualify for legal aid, will it cover any review I might make following the trial? 14.
15. If I qualify for legal aid, can it be withdrawn before the end of the trial (or even after the trial)? 15.
16. If I do not qualify for legal aid, can I appeal against this decision? 16.

 

1. What are the costs of a trial and who should normally pay them?

The costs of a trial will be the professional charges for the solicitors and barristers (if any) who have acted for each party, together with the expenses of any witnesses (including expert witnesses) and stamp duty payable on certain documents issued by the Court.

The levels of those professional charges and witness expenses are determined by the Courts, in consultation with the respective professional bodies concerned. It is not possible to give a precise figure in advance for the costs of any individual trial, since it will vary depending on the level of the Court involved, the seriousness/complexity of the case concerned and the length of the trial.

The normal rule in civil proceedings is that the party who loses the case will pay the costs of each side. However, if a person has been granted legal aid, then (provided the legal aid is not withdrawn - see paragraph 15 below), even if they lose their case, the maximum amount they are required to pay will be the level of contributions which they have been assessed to pay by the Northern Ireland Legal Services Commission (the Commission) (see paragraph 3 and paragraph 10 below).

2. What is legal aid?

The Legal Aid Schemes in Northern Ireland can assist you to obtain the help of a solicitor (and, as necessary, a barrister) if you need legal advice or assistance in relation to a Civil matter of concern to you. The availability of Legal Aid ensures that a person of limited or moderate means has access to the same legal services as persons who can afford to pay a solicitor/barrister privately.

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There are three basic Legal Aid Schemes:-

  • Legal Advice and Assistance (known as the Green Form Scheme). This Scheme extends to Assistance by Way of Representation (known as ABWOR) for court proceedings in very specific cases.
  • Civil Legal Aid - for court proceedings in relation to specific cases.

Both of these Schemes are administered by the Commission.

The other type of Legal Aid relates to Criminal matters to help defend people charged with Criminal Offences. Responsibility for the grant of Criminal legal aid rests with the courts and the details of such procedures are not relevant to a Civil Judicial Network.

3. Can I benefit from legal aid?

Anyone can apply for help individually, including a parent or guardian on behalf of a child, or a relative or friend on behalf of someone who is unable to apply for themselves.

The first stage in the process is to seek legal advice from a solicitor of your choice in the first instance. This initial interview is likely to determine whether or not you have a meritorious case. Your solicitor must advise you in this regard and prepare and submit to the Commission the appropriate Civil Legal Aid Application Forms.

Under Legal Advice and Assistance you may be required to make a small contribution towards the cost of such advice. Your solicitor is responsible for carry out this 'Means Test' which is subject to financial limits.

You may also be required to pay a contribution for Civil Legal Aid. A more rigorous test is applied to such applications. The grant of Civil Legal Aid must satisfy not only the financial Means Test but also the 'Merits Test'. The Merits Test applied is that you must show that you have reasonable grounds for bringing, or defending, the proceedings and it must be reasonable in all the circumstances for you to obtain legal aid.

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4. Can legal aid be obtained for all legal disputes?

Legal Advice and Assistance (Green Form Advice) can only be provided to a client where the advice is directly related to a point of Northern Ireland Law.

Generally Civil Legal Aid is available to anyone who is involved in, or may become involved in, Civil court proceedings in Northern Ireland.

Civil Legal Aid is available for cases in:

  • The House of Lords
  • Court of Appeal
  • High Court
  • County Court
  • Lands Tribunal
  • Enforcement of Judgments Office

Civil Legal Aid is not available for proceedings before a Coroner's court and most tribunals (except those listed above), or for proceedings involving libel and slander. However, advice may be obtained about these proceedings under the Legal Advice and Assistance Scheme. Civil Legal Aid is not available for court cases outside Northern Ireland, except where a case is referred to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg.

Cases which sit outside the Civil Legal Aid Scheme may attract funding by way of an exceptional grant, under Articles 12(8) – (11) of the Access to Justice (Northern Ireland) Order 2003. The Lord Chancellor has published Guidance and Directions which govern the operation of this Scheme.

5. Is there a specific procedure for emergencies?

If your case is urgent, your solicitor can apply for Emergency Legal Aid. This can be granted at once. Emergency Legal Aid lasts only until a decision has been taken on your full application for Civil Legal Aid. When you apply for Emergency Legal Aid you must agree to co-operate with the assessment officer in his/her enquiry into your financial position and also to pay any contribution that is assessed.

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6. Where can I obtain an application for legal aid?

You need to consult a solicitor. Your solicitor will then make all the necessary arrangements for the appropriate forms to be forwarded on your behalf to the Commission.

7. Which documents should I attach to my request for legal aid?

Your solicitor has an obligation to advise and assist you in the completion of your application for either Assistance by Way of Representation or Civil Legal Aid. Your solicitor must also ensure that all the necessary documentary evidence in relation to your means is furnished with the application. It is essential that you make available documentary evidence of your earnings or the benefits which you are receiving. Where a child is involved, it is advisable to bring his/her Birth Certificate. You will also need to provide your solicitor with your National Insurance Number, if applicable, and your home address including postcode.

8. Where should I register my request for legal aid?

Your solicitor will make all the necessary arrangements for the appropriate forms to be forwarded on your behalf to the Commission.

9. How will I be informed of whether or not I am eligible for legal aid? 

The Commission will notify both you and your solicitor of the decision.

10. If I qualify for legal aid, what should I do?

The outcome of the assessment of means test will dictate what you are required to do. For example, if you are found to be financially eligible and you have no contribution to make, and you satisfy the merits test, a legal aid certificate will issue to you and to your solicitor.

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However, if as a result of the means test you are required to make a contribution towards the costs of your case, an offer of legal aid will be issued to you by the Commission. The offer will set out the amount you are due to pay. This amount is usually accepted over a twelve month period by way of instalments. It is at this stage that you must consider whether or not you are prepared to accept the offer in full. Upon receipt of the signed offer, along with the first instalment, the Commission will issue a legal aid certificate to you and your solicitor.

11. If I qualify for legal aid, who will chose my lawyer?

The choice of solicitor is a decision you must take. To help you make the right choice there is a Legal Aid Solicitors list of all solicitors' firms who participate in the Legal Aid Scheme. Copies of the list are available in local libraries, Advice Centres, Social Security Agencies, Police Stations and on the Solicitors section of the Commission web site.

You can also ask your local Citizen's Advice Bureau, Law Centre or Advice Centre for guidance in your selection.

12. If I qualify for legal aid, will this cover all the costs of my trial?

Whether legal aid is granted in part or in full is not the deciding factor in who will pay the costs. Once again the question of who becomes liable for the costs of your case is dependent upon the decision of the court or any settlement that may be reached before the case goes to hearing.

13. If I qualify for partial legal aid, who will pay the other costs?

Whether legal aid is granted in part or in full is not the deciding factor in who will pay the costs. Once again the question of who becomes liable for the costs of your case is dependent upon the decision of the court or any settlement that may be reached before the case goes to hearing.

14. If I qualify for legal aid, will it cover any review I might make following the trial?

You will need to make a separate application for legal aid for any review/appeal, unless the original legal aid certificate specifies that such review/appeal is covered.

15. If I qualify for legal aid, can it be withdrawn before the end of the trial (or even after the trial)?

A decision to grant legal aid may cease at any point in time if it is established that an applicant has misled the authorities or failed to disclose relevant information. Legal aid can be removed before, during or after the case gets trial.

16. If I do not qualify for legal aid, can I appeal against this decision?

The relevant legislation allows an applicant to appeal against the decision to refuse legal aid.

Further information

Further details on Legal Aid in Northern Ireland can be obtained from:

« Legal aid - General information | United Kingdom - General information »

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Last update: 11-04-2006

 
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