In this article, we want to explore Legal Aid in the UK for the benefit of family court cases.
What is legal aid?
Legal Aid is a service designed to provide free or subsidised assistance to people who aren’t able to afford legal representation or access to the court system. It is a hugely important service, especially for families who want fair access to justice and equality, the right to counsel, and the opportunity for a fair trial.
Why family court cases might require free solicitor’s services
There are times when a family becomes involved in a legal dispute that winds up in court, and they are unable to pay for the legal costs involved. The free solicitor’s services that Family Court provides include are:
- legal advice
- family meditation
- representation in court or at a tribunal
To get these benefits, you’ll need to:
- prove your eligibility for Legal Aid
- show that the situation is serious
- provide financial evidence to demonstrate that you cannot afford the legal fees
‘Prove that the situation is serious’ – What does this mean?
Ingeneral, the following situations could be deemed ‘serious’ and help you to get the legal support you need:
You or your family are at immediate risk of abuse or serious harm (examples include domestic violence and forced marriage)
- You are at immediate risk of being made homeless or losing your home, or your home is in a serious state of disrepair
- Your child is in immediate danger in connection with the court case
- You’ve been accused of a crime and are facing prison or detention
- You’re being discriminated against
- You’re trying to leave an abusive relationship and need advice and support regarding finances, children, and divorce – especially if your children are at risk of being taken into care
- You require family mediation, perhaps if you are going through a separation or divorce
- You or your family are receiving poor quality care due to age, disabilities, or special needs
- Challenging a Government decision made against you or your family
- You are seeking asylum
- You have been the victim of human trafficking
- You’re making a case regarding the Human Rights Act and wish to add legal documents in support
- You’ve been arrested, charged, or questioned by the police
- You’re appealing a decision made by the social security tribunal about your benefits
- You or a family member requires representation at a mental health tribunal or inquest
In certain cases, you may have to pay back some money at a later date. This is decided on a case by case basis.
How else can free solicitors help families?
Your family court case may require all sorts of different types of support, you might need:
- help with the costs of legal advice
- someone to speak or negotiate on your behalf
- help paying legal costs
- a law professional to explain your options
- support with paperwork
- help after being accused of a crime (and you’re still at a police station)
- someone to get your case ready and speak on your behalf
What is the eligibility criteria for Legal Aid?
The two main considerations to think about when you or your family begins looking at whether to apply for Legal Aid or not are dependent on the type of case and your financial circumstances.
If your case is not deemed serious and you have the funds to pay for your own legal costs, you may not be eligible.
In civil (non-criminal) cases, which relates mostly to family, debt, or housing issues, you will need to give evidence that you cannot pay for your legal costs and that the relevant court case and problem are serious. Financial proof comes in the form of income, benefits, savings, and owned property, as well as those of the partner of the involved party. For under 18s, the most relevant information is the income of your parents or guardian.
Financial circumstances are not looked at for:
- Child abduction cases
- Children in care cases
- Mental health tribunals
Is there any automatic Legal Aid eligibility?
Yes, if you’re under 16, or under 18 and still in full-time education, you automatically qualify for legal representation. You may also qualify if you’re on certain benefits.
In emergency situations you may also be able to request urgent representation in court, especially when you or your children are at immediate risk of harm or abuse.
Will Legal Aid cover all of your costs?
In many cases, yes, but there are instances where you will be asked to pay some of the costs upfront or at the end.
It is quite common when there is a financial claim being made in the court case that the Legal Aid Agency will make a ‘statutory charge’ on any money or property won to help cover some of the legal fees incurred.
It is a rare occurrence, but sometimes legal aid can be withdrawn for a case.
What must be provided to a legal adviser in criminal cases?
You and your partner must provide:
- Current benefits and benefit statements
- Income, savings, spending, payslips, and bank statements
- National insurance numbers
- Court documents related to the case
- Marriage and birth certificates for family cases
- Relevant letters and legal documents
- Any potential changes in financial circumstances
Is Legal Aid the only help I can get?
Legal Aid is designed to help families going through a difficult time with the legal system and can be an absolute lifeline for support. Fortunately, Legal Aid is not the only supportive organisation, in fact, you can also go to:
Written by DNA Legal
DISCLAIMER: This article should not be regarded as constituting legal advice in relation to particular circumstances. It is merely a general comment on the relevant topic. If specific advice is required in connection with any of the matters covered in this article, please speak to DNA Legal directly.