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What is Legal Aid?

By: Dave Howell - Updated: 15 Dec 2015 | comments*Discuss
Legal Aid Court Case Legal Services


I am retired and my husband is due to retire next year. I am currently seeing a solicitor in order to try and have some sort of contact with my grandchildren who I have not seen in five years.

Although my solicitor is sending letters to my ex daughter-in-law I have had no reply and have been told that the best way forward is to take her to court. This is impossible for my husband and myself at the moment as we cannot afford it.

However, I have heard of legal Aid and need more information. If you could help with this advice we would be grateful as we seem to be hitting brick walls an awful lot.
(Mrs Eileen Ryan, 12 October 2008)


Legal aid is designed to enable people that would normally not have access to the legal system the ability to bring a court case. The idea is that the cost of the case itself is paid for by the state. Many people that would like to use the courts, and who have a good case to bring, cannot do so because of the cost. Legal aid was set-up so that everyone has equal access to our legal system and is governed by the Access to Justice Act 1999.

Legal Services Commission

The legal aid scheme in England and Wales is run by the Legal Services Commission (LSC), overseen by the Ministry of Justice.

There are separate schemes for legal aid in Scotland and Northern Ireland. In Scotland, contact:

The Scottish Legal Aid Board
Phone: 0131 226 7061

The Northern Ireland Legal Services Commission
Phone: 028 9040 8888

Who is eligible for legal aid?

In England and Wales, legal aid is available for most criminal and civil cases. Therefore, you should be able to apply for legal aid in your particular case as this would be a civil matter. In Scotland legal aid is administered through the Court of Session and the Sheriff Court, and is available for criminal and civil court cases.

To qualify for legal aid you must:

Be defined as ‘financially eligible’
?This means your income and any assets or capital you own such as property and possessions will be looked at as a potential source of money to pay for the court case you want to bring. In most cases you would not be financially eligible if your gross income before tax was more than £2,435 last month, or you have over £8,000 in capital or other assets that could be sold to give you an income of over £8,000.

Have a court case that is applicable for legal aid
?Most civil and criminal cases can be bought with legal aid assistance, but if your case was for libel then you would not usually be able to gain legal aid support.

Have a case that has a chance of success
Your individual case will be looked at closely. If the solicitors that would be handling your case think there is a good chance of you winning, then this is a good foundation onto which you can apply for legal aid support.

Will I have to pay anything?

Yes. Even if you are granted legal aid, you may still have to pay some of the costs of bringing your court case. These costs can include: a lump sum or what is called a ‘capital contribution’. A monthly payment called an ‘income contribution’ and the repayment of costs if you receive any at the end of your case.

What if I can’t get legal aid?

If you are not financially eligible or your case isn’t thought to be one that could be won, you can still pursue your court case. There are lawyers that will help you on a ‘no win no fee’ basis. Before you contact these lawyers its a good idea to get some advice from the LSC. Visit their website at: www.clsdirect.org.uk, or call them on 0845 345 4 345.

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pen - Your Question:
My ex has residency of my daughter she is 10 and does not want to live with him. He keeps on breaking court orders and really intimidating me using my daughter as an emotional weapon its reall affecting my daughter. I have the police and victim support involved and am trying to get a restraining order against him. I have been advised by soscial services to go back to court but I cant afford it is there any way I could get legal aid ? Thank you.

Our Response:
I'm afraid Legal Aid is a bit thin on the ground and can only be awarded in certain circumstances, see link here. Many people who cannot get Legal Aid now self-litigate, as it helps to reduce hefty legal bills, please see Bar Council - Guide to Representing Yourself in Court, link here. I hope this helps.
CourtroomAdvice - 16-Dec-15 @ 11:44 AM
My ex has residency of my daughter she is 10 and does not want to live with him. He keeps on breaking court orders and really intimidating me using my daughter as an emotional weapon its reall affecting my daughter. I have the police and victim support involved and am trying to get a restraining order against him. I have been advised by soscial services to go back to court but I cant afford it is there any way I could get legal aid ? Thank you.
pen - 15-Dec-15 @ 2:10 PM
@AncientR. - the fact that your daughter cannot contribute financially has no influence on whether she should be allowed to see her children or not. If she can't afford the legal fees she can self-litigate, see the Bar Council link here. Sometimes parties act alone and sometimes with the 'right to reasonable assistance' of a McKenzie Friend who can act voluntarily. There is a presumption in favour of allowing a McKenzie friend to sit in on court proceedings so as to be able to provide that reasonable assistance. This ties in with Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights, which directs that "those who need assistance with the presentation of their case" should receive it. Assistance means offering moral support, taking notes, helping with case papers and quietly giving advice on any aspect of the conduct of the case. But assistance does not extend to conducting litigation or acting as an advocate - and McKenzie Friends do not have a right to audience in court, unlike solicitors and barristers. In exceptional cases, where a litigant in person is inarticulate or has severe health problems and is unable to present the case, some judges have allowed McKenzie Friends to address the court directly. I hope this helps.
CourtroomAdvice - 15-Jul-15 @ 12:10 PM
the courts have issued me a summon to court to give evidence the day before the case is due I have not had no letters prior to that its at such a short notice that I cannot cancel my work commitments what should I do ?
ams - 13-Jul-15 @ 4:44 PM
My daughter became very ill with depression following birth of her second child 13 years ago. Her husband had to look after them, and a divorce followed. My daughter has been unable to work since, is on benefit, the council pay most of her rent. Up to about two years ago, her ex allowed access on a roughly two week basis, but stopped this because she is unable to assist children's upkeep financially, she lives 'hand to mouth'. He is only the guardian by informal arrangement. It's a form of blackmail,really. What can she do through the courts, as she has no money or assets?
AncientR. - 13-Jul-15 @ 12:34 PM
@Mike - Regardless of whether you have dropped the charges or not, the safety of the victim, or other person involved will be a priority for the authorities when deciding whether to prosecute or not. It does not mean the case will be stopped as the CPS first needs to consider what other evidence is available. As a general rule the CPS states it will prosecute all cases where there is sufficient evidence and there are no factors preventing prosecution. If the victim has decided to withdraw support, it will aim to find out why.
Sal - 11-Nov-14 @ 12:48 PM
i was the victim of a serious assault of which a knife was used,whilst in hospital i was interviewed by the police twice the first occasion i cannot remember and the second i gave a completley different statement,the truth is i cannot remember exactly what happened and refused to sign the statement or press charges,the police told me they would use my statement anyway and press charges without me,is there anything i can do to stop this.
mike - 10-Nov-14 @ 6:58 PM
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