Legal aid is Government support available to enable people to get legal help and advice on a wide range of issues. It can also be used towards paying for costs related to representation in court.
In some cases, legal aid will not always cover the full legal costs; the individual might also have to pay towards them.
Legal aid can be used in matters relating to issues such as, but not limited to:
- criminal law – for example, where someone has been arrested and is being questioned by the police or faces being charged
- education – for disputes regarding special educational needs assessments and decisions
- family – to help with divorce mediation
- debt – for advice in serious cases such as when someone could lose their home
- community care – for disputes around the care of elderly and disabled people
- housing – for people facing eviction or harassment
- immigration and asylum – support for those seeking asylum or facing deportation
There are also specific things which it can’t be used for. For example, legal aid can’t usually be used in employment law disputes, except for cases where someone is a victim of discrimination.
Legal aid can only be used for law advice and help from lawyers or other professionals who have a contract with the Legal Aid Agency.
Legal aid can come in various forms, such as:
- Money towards legal advice, support or representation
- Advice regarding a person’s legal position and options and support with completing legal documentation
- Representation from a solicitor or barrister in court
- Court help – this is when someone speaks on a person’s behalf on court but isn’t officially representing them
- Support at the police station if someone has been arrested.
- Mediation – to help divorcing couples avoid court
Not everyone is eligible for legal aid. In civil cases, applicants must be able to prove that they are unable to pay for legal help themselves.
Details of income, benefits and property will be required to inform the decision. It must also be shown in most cases that the situation is adequately serious to justify legal aid. In criminal cases, some people automatically get legal aid, such as if they’re under 16 or in receipt of particular benefits.