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All about legal aid in France

Many cases remain hidden in the shadows without being judged for lack of resources of the plaintiff. The State then established a system to grant legal aid to those who cannot cover the various legal costs, provided they meet the required conditions. THElegal aid covers the fees of legal personnel including the lawyer, the notary and the bailiff, as well as costs related to the trial procedure. Even minors can apply for legal aid, however, it is important to know what the law imposes on this case.

Concept on legal aid

Legal aid is the help that the State grants to people who need to take legal action, but lack the resources. The State bears all or part of the costs of the legal proceedings on behalf of the plaintiffs and undertakes to pay them.

Legal aid has been set up to allow everyone to access justice and enjoy the same rights. Thus, legal aid covers expenses relating to legal proceedings such as the fees of legal assistants, as well as legal costs.

Legal aid is granted during civil proceedings such as divorce, or for criminal proceedings such as conflicts, submitted to the criminal court. Also, it applies during an administrative procedure, following an administrative sanction.

Beneficiaries of legal aid

Justice is accessible to everyone regardless of the nature and seriousness of the case and the financial situation of the citizen. Anyone wishing to bring a legal action or who is affected by the legal proceedings has the right to apply for legal aid.

The list of persons benefiting from legal aid includes the plaintiff, the civil party, the accused, the defendant, the witness, the assisted witnesses, the individuals charged, and the convicted person.

It should be noted that the sums paid before a request for legal aid are no longer reimbursed, the best option is to file the request for legal aid as soon as possible. 

Conditions for obtaining legal aid

Three conditions are required to benefit from legal aid, which are:

  • Be of French or European nationality;
  • Have a permanent residence in France;
  • Compliance with the non-subscription to a legal protection insurance contract, because the latter covers the costs of justice.

As a result, foreigners on short stays cannot benefit from this legal aid.. An income ceiling is put in place by the State. As a result, the applicant's reference tax income must be below the required ceiling, as must these movable and immovable assets.

It should also be noted that French law does not provide legal aid if a person is tried by a foreign court.  On the other hand, it is possible to benefit from legal aid if it is the foreign country which provides it. Thus, a form is to be completed and sent to the justice system, which will forward it to the officials of the country concerned.

However, since January 01, 2021, cases that are tried in another Member State of the European Union except Denmark and the United Kingdom, can benefit from legal aid, according to the rules in force in the country.. It is important to know that legal assistance can only take place in civil and commercial cases.

The litigant must realize that he is obliged to pay the costs of justice and the lawyer in the event that he loses the case, this settlement can be total or partial. However, the lawyer must have won the trial to have the right to request his fees from the litigant.

Exceptions to legal aid

Legal aid has no age limit, as it can be allocated to minors withheld a right of residence, in the event that they are placed in a detention center or because they are assigned for distance measure.

The law is tolerant in certain cases such as that of minors. Hence the law has provided a list of exceptions regarding legal aid for minor applicants.

Legal aid is given to a minor applicant without constraint when the latter wishes to be heard by the judge for family matters or JAF. This is also the case for a neglected minor: temporary aid is issued to him without verification of the parents' eligibility for legal aid. 

Legal aid for victims of crime

Legal aid is given to victims of criminal acts without verification of:

  • Tax income;
  • Heritage value.

Legal aid for victims of domestic violence

An emergency procedure for the denunciation of domestic violence allows the granting of temporary legal aid. The conditions required to benefit from legal aid must be fulfilled during the procedure. Otherwise you will be charged to repay the aid.

The amount of legal aid

The amount of legal aid depends on the applicant's taxable income. Legal aid varies between 50% and 100%. In the case of full legal aid, the expenses relating to the procedure are covered by the State.

In the event that the applicant is the only one to file the tax return, the assets must not exceed a certain value.

It should be noted that for the amount of legal aid, the calculation of the ceilings and the different payment methods are done differently depending on the number of people in a tax household, ranging from 2 to 7 people.

He is required to know that a cohabiting couple each make their tax return since they have a separate tax household. On the other hand, a married couple or an attached adult parent or child share a single tax household.

The difference between full and partial legal aid

lawyer having a meeting with the client

When it comes to full and partial payment, there are key points to remember. The State covers all legal costs when it grants all legal aid, including legal costs. However, some jurisdictions require the payment of the costs of the argument which is the responsibility of the plaintiff, as well as the lawyer he has chosen for his defense.

Thanks to legal aid, the applicant is free to choose the lawyer who suits him. In the event that it is impossible for the plaintiff to have one, according to the law, he has the right to a court-appointed lawyer. More specifically, it is the President of the Bar Association who makes it available to him.

It is the applicant's duty to communicate to the legal aid office his desire to have another lawyer in the context of a dissatisfaction.

However, legal aid, even partial, covers the total amount that the State owes the lawyer, the bailiff, the notary, and the costs relating to the procedure (costs of expertise and social investigations.)

Procedure for applying for legal aid

The decree of January 5, 2022 provides information on the model legal aid application form as well as the list of documents to be provided.

Since February 01, 2022, form 16146*03 is the only form to be completed. Once completed, it must be filed with the competent legal aid offices of the residence in the event that the case is appealed to the court of first degree and the Court of Appeal. It must be filed with the Court of Cassation, the Council of State or the National Court for the Right of Asylum in the event that the procedure takes place at the level of these courts.

The enjoyment of legal aid entitles the applicant to one year to bring a legal action.

State contribution

A lawyer who works for the applicant for legal aid benefits from "retribution". The State provides each year for lawyers at the bars a contribution dedicated to those who plead in legal action. The functions of assisting the lawyer in a non-judicial procedure also benefit from it. The calculation of the value of this State subsidy is made according to the number of legal aid missions carried out by the lawyer of the bar, the product, the type of procedure and the unit of reference value or UV reference (It should be noted that for the year 2022, the finance law n° 2021-1900, of December 30, 2021 stipulates an increase in the cost of the UV reference).

 For the remuneration of non-judicial proceedings, the calculation of the cost is made by the number of defenses carried out by the lawyers.

It is imperative to know that according to the law, it is the rules of procedure of each bar which determines the method of payment of lawyers for those who have provided legal aid. The rules of procedure of the bar on legal aid are formulated at the departmental council for legal aid.

Lawyer and legal aid

A lawyer is not always obliged to accept legal aid work. He is entitled not to want to deal with a case for personal reasons or for any other reason whatsoever. However, in a criminal case, the lawyer is appointed ex officio and must obey the President of the Bar. The law requires lawyers in the legal aid service to provide valid reasons for impediment, validated by the authority assigned to them.

Withdrawing legal aid

Fulfilling the required conditions does not necessarily mean that the applicant for legal aid will benefit from it. There are some essential eligibility clauses that the State checks beforehand before accepting the application.

Fraud during the establishment of the application for legal aid

There are some litigants who omit the declaration of income and assets. In this case, the legal aid office is required to re-examine the file before granting legal aid. This omission is frequently present in family matters such as divorce. The parties concerned are obliged to make a declaration of assets for the sharing. The risk is therefore the denunciation of the opposing party of the state of the applicant's assets, from which the legal aid office can refuse aid.

Spouse's denunciation

The law allows the vitiated spouse to denounce the fault committed by the other party to the legal aid office, if the latter has received legal aid, without the spouse being informed either of the existence of the aid or of its amount. Thus, the party who has received legal aid is required to reimburse the State for the sums received in order to alleviate the miscellaneous costs related to the case. The lawyer must also return the fees he received for covering the case.

The law is strict, in the case where the judgment received by the lawyer has enabled the litigant to have a better financial situation after his application for legal aid. The State, after having verified and confirmed this state of affairs, therefore takes the decision to refuse aid to the applicant. Thus, the lawyer has the right to ask for payment of his fees from the litigant because the refusal of legal aid does not allow the lawyer to obtain his compensation. This is also the case for a judgment of divorce. where the winning or winning party acquires a better deal thanks to the advantages obtained by winning the case.

Refusal of the lawyer in case of State compensation

Following the lawyer's request to the court, the adversary is condemned to pay an indemnity on the lawyers' fees. This request is accepted by law, so the lawyer can waive the state compensation and choose to collect the amount paid by the adversary. In this case, the lawyer is required to inform the legal aid office of the state of affairs. Only, in the event that the adversary refuses to pay the lawyer's fees, it is at this time that he receives the compensation paid by the State.

The court-appointed lawyer

In criminal matters, the State is required to pay the court-appointed lawyer, following the choice of the litigant who has resources above the ceiling. However, it happens that an applicant wishes to change lawyer for one reason or another, he then renounces the legal aid granted and he is required to pay the costs of the lawyer he has chosen for his own account. . In this case, the new lawyer provides an invoice which mentions the requests according to the exact amount of his mission with the other applicants who do not benefit from legal aid. These costs are intended to cover the management of the file, the personal initiative of the lawyer from the beginning of the case until its conclusion. And this, that this outcome of the trial is favorable for the party who has requested his services.

At the end of the mission, a certain period of payment is granted to the lawyer by way of closure and archiving of the file. 

The benefit of legal aid does not modify the risks associated with the trial. This means that the losing party at trial, although the latter has received legal aid, is obliged to pay the costs. She must also reimburse what the State has granted her in the form of aid. It is therefore advisable to estimate the risks in advance with the lawyer before starting a trial, because the beneficiary of legal aid could be required to pay a heavy sum in the event of refusal by the State.

Legal aid, whether total or partial, is made for people who are unable to pay the costs of justice. The amount of this aid is not the same for everyone. If you need this kind of help, certain essential conditions are required and you are required to provide information about yourself in order to determine your eligibility. In France, as in almost all countries in the world, the law requires absolute compliance with these conditions before granting any citizen their right to any legal aid.

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