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Last update: 09-07-2007
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Legal aid - International law

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Legal aid is a fundamental right recognised by the Council of Europe.

Article 6 of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms which has been signed by all the Member States of the Union, provides that everyone is entitled to a fair hearing.

It specifies that anyone charged with a criminal offence has the right to defend himself in person or through legal assistance of his own choosing or, if he has not sufficient means to pay for legal assistance, to be given it free when the interests of justice so require.

This provision relates to criminal matters but the European Court of Human Rights has ruled that this principle also applies to civil matters.

If a person feels that his/her rights to legal aid have been infringed, that person can, under certain conditions, refer the matter to the European Court of Human Rights.

International conventions intended to make life easier for citizens

If you wish to receive legal aid in a country other than the one in which you reside, you should know of the international conventions that are intended to make life easier.

All Member States of the Union, with the exception of Germany are party to a Council of Europe European Agreement on the Transmission of Applications for Legal Aid (signed in Strasbourg in 1977).

The Agreement introduces a procedure whereby, if you have your habitual residence in the territory of one of the Contracting Parties and wish to apply for legal aid in the territory of another Contracting Party, you may submit your application in the State where you are habitually resident. That State will transmit the application to the other State under certain conditions.

There is a list of authorities you can refer to.

A Convention signed in the Hague in 1980 on International Access to Justice also makes provision for the transmission of applications for legal aid between the Contracting Parties in the form of a model agreed by all. This Convention requires that nationals and residents of the Contracting Parties be granted legal aid in other Contracting States under the same conditions as if they resided there.

But this Convention has not been ratified by all the Member States of the Union.

Reference documents

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Last update: 09-07-2007

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