Legal Aid: When is it Available?
Legal Aid is available within a number of different areas of family law. This article provides a summary guide to when legal aid may be available.
Care proceedings and pre-proceedings
Free legal assistance is available where a Local Authority has taken certain steps to protect children it believes are suffering or at risk of suffering significant harm.
Free legal assistance, called Legal Help, is available to parents or persons with parental responsibility when a Local Authority becomes involved under the pre-proceedings protocol. It is a requirement for Legal Help that the Local Authority has provided a specific letter stating that it has engaged in pre-proceedings with a view to avoiding care proceedings. It is not sufficient that a Local Authority has become involved under Child in Need or Child Protection if it has not made the decision to move into pre-proceedings and provided a letter confirming this.
If the conditions outlined above are satisfied then Legal Help will usually be available without any requirement for an assessment of the parent’s finances or the merits of their case. Legal Help will cover the cost of advice, representation at specific pre-proceedings meetings with the Local Authority and correspondence.
If a Local Authority makes an application to the Court for a Care or Supervision Order Legal Aid will usually be available to parents or persons with parental responsibility. Legal Aid is assessed in the same way as Legal Help so there is no requirement for financial assessment or an assessment of the merits of the case. Legal Aid, in addition to the areas covered by Legal Help, will cover representation at Court hearings and the cost of certain disbursements that may be ordered by the Court.
Domestic Violence Injunctions
Legal Aid will usually be available to obtain a Domestic Violence Injunction from the Court. These can be obtained for victims of physical, emotional and sexual abuse as well as for harassment against the perpetrator.
The Legal Aid Agency will carry out a means and merit assessment to determine whether it is appropriate to grant public funding. The merit assessment will look at various factors, such as, the necessity or urgency of an order and other attempts made to obtain protection, for example, via the police. The means assessment will look at the persons financial eligibility for Legal Aid. Financial assessments can be quite complicated and you may wish to look at online guidance/calculators or speak to us at Fiona Bruce LLP to help you with this.
For Domestic Violence Injunctions only there is no upper limit to the financial assessment; this means that a person is much more likely to be assessed as financially eligible compared to other areas of law, however, the Legal Aid Agency may require a person to pay a monthly contribution to the costs. The level of monthly contribution depends on a person’s financial situation and can be significant.
Divorce and Matrimonial Finances and Private Law Children Cases
Legal Help and Legal Aid may be available for assistance with divorce and/or matrimonial finances in certain very specific circumstances, however, usually it will not be available for assistance in these areas. The main circumstance is where the person seeking Legal Help or Aid is the victim of domestic violence and the other party in the proceedings or prospective proceedings is the perpetrator. There are very strict criteria of evidence required to demonstrate that a person is a victim of domestic violence for this purpose which can be found on government resource website under legal aid. The evidential requirements may change from time to time.
Private law children matters include, for example, a parent seeking to spend time with a child or that a child live with them. The requirements for Legal Help and Legal Aid in private children matters are largely the same as those for divorce and matrimonial finances, however, it may be available where an order of the Court is required in order to safeguard a child. Evidence of the need to safeguard a child will be required and information regarding the type of evidence required can be obtained from the government resource website under legal aid.
Legal Help and Legal Aid for Divorce and Matrimonial Finances and Private Law Children Cases require an assessment of finances and the merits of the case. Financial assessments can be quite complicated and you may wish to look at online guidance/calculators or speak to us at Fiona Bruce LLP to help you with this.
Contact us if you're in need of legal aid.
This article is for general information only and does not constitute specific advice. You should not rely on the information in this article. Fiona Bruce Solicitors recommends that you seek our specific advice if you wish to rely on the any part of this article. Whilst Fiona Bruce Solicitors makes every effort to ensure that the article is accurate, Fiona Bruce Solicitors excludes all liability for claim, loss, demands or damages of any kind whatsoever (whether such claims, loss, demands or damages were foreseeable, known or otherwise) arising out of or in connection with the use of this article or any other information contained on this website. Any information provided only applies to England and Wales.