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Last update: 18-08-2006
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Legal aid - Portugal

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TABLE OF CONTENTS

1. What are the costs of legal proceedings and who normally has to pay them? 1.
2. What is legal protection? 2.
3. Who may benefit from legal protection? 3.
4. Can legal protection be obtained for any type of dispute or litigation? 4.
5. Does any special procedure exist for urgent cases? 5.
6. Where can I obtain application forms for legal aid? 6.
7. What documents must be enclosed with the application? 7.
8. Where do I submit the application? 8.
9. How will I be informed whether I have been granted legal aid? 9.
10. If I am granted legal aid, what should I do? 10.
11. If I am granted legal aid, who appoints the lawyer? 11.
12. If I am granted legal aid, does this cover all the costs of the proceedings? 12.
13. If I am granted partial legal aid, who pays the rest? 13.
14. If I wish to appeal the judgment, does the legal protection granted to me extend to such an appeal? 14.
15. Can legal aid that has been granted be withdrawn before the conclusion of the proceedings? 15.
16. If I am refused legal aid, can I appeal against the decision? 16.

 

1. What are the costs of legal proceedings and who normally has to pay them?

The costs of legal proceedings relate to the payment of costs and the fees of the legal representative (barrister, junior barrister or solicitor);

  • Costs include court fees and charges;
  • Court fees cover the payment by Court users for the public service of the administration of Justice; the amounts are set on the basis of a schedule which takes as a reference the monetary value of the case; in the case of appeals, the losing party pays the costs; incidental costs are separately taxed but depend on the value of the action;
  • Charges consist of the repayment of expenses advanced by the Court, payments to any organisations to cover the cost of certificates not produced officially by the Court, documents, opinions, drawings, other documentary evidence and services which the Court may have requested, payments due to those who have participated in the proceedings, including the legally set fees, travel expenses and assistance towards expenses, reimbursement of postal charges, telephone, telegraphs, faxing, electronic copies, reimbursement for acquisition of magnetic media necessary for recording the evidence and reimbursement to the successful party in the proceedings of its costs, as well as barristers’ fees;
  • The fees of legal representatives are set by the Court, which must, for this purpose, have due regard to the time spent, the difficulty of the matter, the importance of the service provided, the financial means of the interested parties, the results obtained by means of the lawsuit and the amounts applied, in similar situations, within the respective judicial district;
  • The responsibility for the payment of costs is based on the decision of the court in regard to the case tried, the costs being paid by the unsuccessful party or by the party that has benefited from the action;
  • Some proceedings are, by virtue of legal provisions, exempt from the payment of costs, as are some parties to proceedings;
  • The final court fees, in civil proceedings, are set on conclusion of the case; therefore, they are paid at intervals, one quarter being lodged at the time of presentation of the petition or initial claim, the defence or appeal; in the majority of actions, a subsequent court fee, of an amount equal to the initial court fee, is paid after notification of the date that has been set for the final hearing;
  • The amounts paid in respect of the initial court fees and the court fees subsequently paid by the successful party will be reimbursed to the latter together with any sums advanced to cover expenses.

2. What is legal protection?

Legal protection is the constitutionally and legally enshrined system ensuring that no one experiences difficulty or is prevented, due to their social or cultural status, or lack of financial means, from being informed of, exercising or defending their rights.

It consists of two types:

a.Legal information, which seeks to inform of one's rights and the legal system, providing for the optimum exercise of those rights and the fulfilment of the legally established duties, in particular by means of the gradual creation of services providing access to the courts and judicial services and;
b.Legal protection, which includes:
b.1.Legal advice, through law firms which it is intended will cover the entire national territory and which citizens may visit in order to receive free legal advice from legal professionals. Legal advice may involve carrying out extra-judicial steps or informal mechanisms of reconciliation;
b.2.Legal aid, which takes the following forms:
b.2.1.Total or partial exemption from court fees and other charges relating to the proceedings;
b.2.2.Deferment of payment of court fees and other charges relating to the proceedings;
b.2.3.Appointment and payment of the legal representative’s fees, or alternatively, payment of fees to the legal representative chosen by the applicant.

The latter type may be granted jointly with either of the two previous ones.

3. Who may benefit from legal protection?

The beneficiaries of legal protection (legal advice and legal aid) are as follows:

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  • Portuguese and European Union citizens who demonstrate that they do not have sufficient financial means to pay the fees of the legal representatives and to pay, in full or in part, the normal costs of legal proceedings;
  • Foreigners and stateless persons habitually resident in Portugal;
  • Foreigners not resident in Portugal, to the extent that legal protection is also granted to Portuguese nationals by the laws of the respective States;
  • Legal entities and companies proving that they do not have sufficient financial means to pay the fees of the legal professionals, to cover, in full or in part, the normal costs of legal proceedings;
  • Companies and sole traders, in cases relating to the exercise of trade, and individual establishments with limited liability when the court fees and other costs relating to the proceedings amount to a sum considerably beyond their estimated financial possibilities, in particular, in regard to turnover, the value of the capital or equity and the number of employees.

4. Can legal protection be obtained for any type of dispute or litigation?

Legal protection may be granted for the resolution of any type of legal dispute or litigation and legal aid does not depend on any prior assessment of the purpose and complexity of the action to be commenced or already brought, its merit or the type of proceedings.

5. Does any special procedure exist for urgent cases?

No special procedure exists for urgent cases.

It is, however, appropriate to note the following:

  • The interested party may always, especially in urgent actions, explain his case to a barrister, junior barrister or solicitor, who will coordinate the application for legal aid according to the specific applicable rules of procedure;
  • When, in the case of an application for legal aid pending legal action, the applicant wishes to appoint a legal representative, the time limit is interrupted on the filing of a document providing evidence that the application for legal aid has been lodged with Social Security;
  • The time limit for the conclusion of the administrative procedure and the decision concerning the application for legal aid is 30 days. After this time limit has expired without a decision having been made, the application will be deemed to have been tacitly granted.

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

Application forms for legal aid may be obtained, free of charge, as follows:

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  • On paper, from any Social Security office open to the public.
  • In electronic form, from the website www.seg-social.pt English - português.

7. What documents must be enclosed with the application?

Proof of insufficient financial means, which may be submitted in any suitable form. Therefore, any documents that serve to demonstrate that the applicant does not have sufficient financial means to cover, in full or in part, the normal costs of judicial proceedings may be attached to the application.

8. Where do I submit the application?

The application for legal aid may be submitted at any Social Security office open to the public, by any of the following means:

  • in person;
  • by fax;
  • by mail;
  • by e-mail (not yet available).

9. How will I be informed whether I have been granted legal aid?

The final decision concerning the application for legal aid is notified in writing to the applicant by the Social Security office dealing with the matter.

In the case of such notification not taking place within a period of 30 days, legal aid will be deemed to have been tacitly granted.

In the latter situation, and as a precaution, (since there may have been a suspension of the time limit or notification may have been sent by post after the expiry of the said 30-day period) it will be appropriate, before commencing legal proceedings, to obtain information from Social Security with respect to the status of the application for legal aid.

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10. If I am granted legal aid, what should I do?

If the legal aid certificate covers the appointment of a legal representative, notification of that decision will also be sent to the Bar Association or the Solicitors Association, which will have a time limit of 10 days, with effect from the date of the said notification, to appoint the same.

This appointment will be notified to the applicant and to the appointed legal representative and, when such applications are made pending legal action, such notification will also serve as notice of the recommencement of the legal time limit.

The notification of the decision of appointment of the legal representative will make express mention to the applicant of the name and business address of the legal representative, together with the duty of the latter to provide legal assistance.

The applicant should therefore immediately contact the appointed legal representative, who will provide him with the necessary information.

If the legal aid certificate covers only total or partial exemption from, or deferment of, thy payment of court fees and other charges relating to the proceedings, the applicant must submit a document proving that the said legal aid has been granted.

11. If I am granted legal aid, who appoints the lawyer?

In those cases in which the application for the appointment of a legal representative is made and granted, the Bar Association or the Solicitors Association will choose and appoint the legal representative, unless the interested party has already done so.

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12. If I am granted legal aid, does this cover all the costs of the proceedings?

If the type of legal aid you have been granted covers total exemption from court fees and other charges and from payment of the fees of the legal representative, all the costs of the proceedings are covered by the legal aid certificate.

13. If I am granted partial legal aid, who pays the rest?

Any charges that are not covered by legal aid are paid by the applicant.

14. If I wish to appeal the judgment, does the legal protection granted to me extend to such an appeal?

Legal aid continues to apply for the purposes of the appeal, irrespective of any decision on the merits of the case.

15. Can legal aid that has been granted be withdrawn before the conclusion of the proceedings?

Once granted, legal aid may be withdrawn before the conclusion of the proceedings:

  1. If the applicant acquires sufficient financial means to dispense with legal aid;
  2. When it is proven by new documents that the reasons why legal aid was granted, no longer apply;
  3. If the documents that served as a basis for the granting of legal aid are declared to be false by a res judicata decision.

16. If I am refused legal aid, can I appeal against the decision?

The decision with respect to legal aid may not be challenged or appealed, but is subject to judicial review by means of an application to be sent to the Social Security office that dealt with the application.

The District Court where the Social Security Service is located is competent to make the final decision or, if the application has been made pending the action, the court in which the action is pending.

Further information

  1. Further information on the Portuguese legal aid system may be obtained from:

    Direcção Geral da Administração Extrajudicial

    Rua de Alcolena n º 1

    P - 1400-004 Lisbon

    Tel.: 351 213041340

    Fax: 351 213041349

    www.dgae.mj.pt português

    correio@dgae.mj.pt

  2. The following legal texts, in particular, relate to access to law and to the Courts:
    • Art. 20 português of the Constitution of the Portuguese Republic;
    • Law No 30-E/2000, of 20 December (which modifies the system of access to the law and to the Courts, attributing to Social Security the task of assessing applications for legal aid);
    • Directive No 150/2002, of 19.02 (schedule of fees of legal representatives providing legal aid within the jurisdiction)
    • Decree-Law No. 224-A/96 português, of 26 November (approving the Legal Costs Code).

« Legal aid - General information | Portugal - General information »

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Last update: 18-08-2006

 
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