Civil Legal Advice and Legal Aid
The Legal Aid Board is responsible for the provision of civil legal aid and advice to those unable to pay for such services from their own resources. The Legal Aid Board is not directly responsible for the provision of criminal legal aid but has a role in the administration of certain criminal legal aid schemes.
Civil legal aid means representation by a barrister or solicitor in civil proceedings in court or before the International Protection Appeals Tribunal, in addition to the preparatory work this entails.
Legal advice includes any oral or written advice provided by a solicitor or barrister.
In principle, legal aid and legal advice are available for all civil matters, other than those which are specifically excluded by law. Those excluded by law include:
- disputes concerning rights and interests in or over land
- small claim cases
- alcohol/club licensing
- election petitions – where a person challenges the result of an election
- applications made in a representative, fiduciary or official capacity
- group/class actions
However, there are exceptions to many of the above exclusions. For further details please contact your local law centre.
As part of Abhaile, the national Mortgage Arrears Resolution Service, a new aid and advice scheme for people in serious mortgage arrears covers a certain amount of free legal aid and advice for eligible borrowers.
Civil legal advice is any oral or written advice given to you by a solicitor or a barrister about how the law applies in civil matters. It can also include writing letters on your behalf or acting for you in negotiations with other people. Legal advice is provided by the Board's solicitors in their law centre network.
Even though most types of criminal cases are excluded from the provision of civil legal advice, an alleged victim of a sexual offence, rape or human trafficking may be granted legal advice.
Legal advice will not be given in relation to any legal matter that in the opinion of the Board could be dealt with by obtaining appropriate advice other than state-assisted legal advice.
The Board may decide to stop providing advice where it considers it is no longer reasonable to do so or that the person receiving the advice is no longer eligible because of their means, to receive it.
In order to qualify for legal advice, you must pass a means test. If your application is successful, you will be asked to make a financial contribution. How much you pay will depend on your means.
If you are:
- the alleged victim in a sexual assault or rape case or
- the alleged victim of human trafficking and have been referred to the Board by the Garda National Immigration Bureau
you do not have to pass a means test or pay a contribution to receive legal advice.
If the Board refuses to grant you legal advice, you may appeal the decision.
Legal aid means representation by a solicitor or barrister in civil proceedings in the District Court, Circuit Court, High Court, Court of Appeal and Supreme Court and in certain instances before the Court of Justice of the European Union. It also applies to appeals to the International Protection Appeals Tribunal. It is also available for certain inquests where a request has been made to the Board by the coroner.
This means that you have engaged the Board to act on your behalf in the proceedings, including sending correspondence on your behalf, drafting court documents, giving advice, representation in court and all the background preparatory work required.
Generally, legal aid is provided by solicitors employed by the Board in its law centres. However, legal aid may also be provided by a solicitor in private practice from a panel of solicitors which has been established by the Board. This is particularly the case for family law matters and international protection cases.
In order to qualify for legal aid, you must generally pass both a means test and a merit test. If you qualify for legal aid, you will have to make some contributions to the overall costs of the proceedings. There are a limited number of exceptions to the requirement to make a contribution, including child-care and domestic violence cases. The Rates section below sets out the minimum and maximum contributions that may be made.
If the Board refuses to grant you legal aid, you may appeal the decision.
This is an initial test to ensure that your case is a legitimate one and that a reasonable person would take the case and would be advised to take the case. You will pass the merit test, if in the Board's opinion:
- you have as a matter of law, reasonable grounds for instituting, defending or being a party to the proceedings for which legal aid is sought
- you are reasonably likely to be successful in the proceedings
- the proceedings for which legal aid is sought are the most satisfactory means of achieving the result sought by you
- having regard to all the circumstances (including the probable cost to the Board, measured against the likely benefit to you), it is reasonable to grant the application
- your case does not fall within the excluded areas
If the proceedings concern the welfare of a child including custody or access or a sex offender order, the second and fourth bullet points do not apply.
In order to qualify for either legal advice or legal aid, you must complete a means test form, which is available at all Legal Aid offices or online here. The law setting out the means test regulations are contained in a variety of regulations which have been informally consolidated here.
The Legal Aid Board means test is different to the social welfare or Health Service Executive (HSE) means tests.
The time period of relevance is the year following your application. The Board will seek to estimate what your disposable income for that year will be. It may be necessary to consider your income for the last year in order to do so.
As well as having disposable income of less than €18,000, you must also have disposable capital of less than €100,000. Your family home is not considered when assessing disposable capital.
Disposable income is total income less deductible expenses including income tax, mortgage repayments, rent, social insurance contributions, interest on loans, child-minding expenses and other items.
The Legal Aid Board reserves the right to request full backing documentation in relation to the financial information provided.
The Legal Aid Board is authorised to get information from the Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection and the Revenue Commissioners about your income or capital.
Most sources of income are considered by the Legal Aid Board and taken into account including income from a job, self-employment, pensions (both occupational and social welfare) investments, rental income, etc.
The value of benefits, privileges and perks that you enjoy will also be taken into account. This includes free accommodation and/or board, and the value of a non-contributory pension scheme.
In the case of spouses or cohabitants with a joint interest in proceedings, the income of both may be taken into account.
Allowances and expenditure
Once the Board has estimated your annual income, it will then seek to calculate your disposable income by deducting the following allowances and expenditure:
- Spouse/partner - there is a deduction of €3,500 if you have a spouse/partner.
- Dependants - there is a deduction of €1,600 for each dependant. A dependant may be a child or step-child under 18 or over 18 and in full-time education or a dependant relative or other person who lives with you and is supported by you.
- Child care expenses up to a maximum of €6,000 per child.
- Accommodation costs up to a maximum of €8,000 per year.
- PRSI and USC contributions are deducted in full.
- Income tax payments are deducted in full.
- Ex gratia payments received up to €1,040 in total.
There are minimum contributions that must be paid except in cases of extreme hardship. However, the contribution that you must make depends on your disposable income for legal advice, and your disposable income and disposable capital, for legal aid. There is no contribution required in child-care and domestic violence cases, however, you still need to come within the disposable income and capital thresholds.
Legal advice: a minimum contribution of €30 must be paid where your disposable income is less than €11,500. If it is more, your contribution is one-tenth of the difference between €11,500 and your disposable income, up to a maximum of €150.
Legal aid: a minimum contribution of €130 must be paid where your disposable income is less than €11,500. If it is more, your contribution is €130 plus one-quarter of the difference between €11,500 and your disposable income. You must pay an additional contribution if your disposable capital is more than €4,000 as follows:
- Up to €54,000 your contribution is 2.5% of the difference between €4,000 and your disposable capital
- Over €54,000 your contribution is €1,250 plus 5% of the difference between €54,000 and your disposable capital
A detailed example of how contributions are calculated is available here.
How to apply
If both parties to a dispute are eligible for legal aid (for example, a marriage or cohabitation breakdown), they will generally be represented by different law centres.
To find out whether you qualify for legal aid and/or advice, you should either apply online or complete the Legal Aid Application Form (pdf) and return t to your nearest law centre. You will give details about your income and your expenses on a confidential basis. The Board provides information on how to complete the form (pdf).
If your application is accepted, you will be asked to make a minimum contribution. If legal aid is necessary, the Board will issue you with a legal aid certificate.
There is a waiting time for an appointment with a solicitor. The maximum waiting time for an appointment with a solicitor is normally four months. However, the Board gives priority to certain categories of cases, such as domestic violence, child care, child abduction and cases where there is a danger that the time limits for issuing proceedings may expire.
Reviewing and appealing a refusal
If your application for legal aid or legal advice is refused, you may ask the decision maker to review the decision and/or appeal the decision.
A review means that you ask the Legal Aid Board to re-consider their decision. Generally, you will submit further information along with the review application. You do not have to seek a review before appealing.
You may also appeal against any decision, including any decision taken following a review of the original decision. The appeal will be considered by an Appeal Committee, which consists of the Chairperson and four other members of the Board.
Submit your written appeal through the law centre solicitor dealing with your application or send your written appeal directly to the Legal Aid Board.
The decision of the appeal committee is final and unappealable.
Where to apply
The Legal Aid and Advice Service operates out of law centres staffed by qualified solicitors.