What is Legal Aid?
Legal Aid is a system where the government assists individuals to pay for legal advice in certain cases where the individual cannot afford to fund their own legal fees. The Legal Aid scheme is funded by the Ministry of Justice and all applications for Legal Aid will be assessed on criteria outlined in legislation.
Legal Aid is only available for specific matters in the realms of criminal law, civil litigation and family law (ie. dissolution of a marriage cannot be funded by the Legal Aid scheme). It is always best to check first with your lawyer whether a matter could be covered by Legal Aid. Not all lawyers will have approval from the Ministry of Justice, or a current contract, to act on Legal Aid matters. Your lawyer will be able to advise whether they will be able to act for you on a Legal Aid basis.
Legal Aid is not necessarily a free system. Some people may be required to repay some or all of their legal fees. This will depend on the income received by that individual and the assets they own. The Ministry of Justice assesses the repayment amount on a case by case basis.
Will I qualify for Legal Aid?
Every person seeking to receive a grant of Legal Aid will need to fill out an application form to send to the Ministry of Justice, along with any supporting documentation requested (such as a recent payslip, letter from WINZ outlining any benefits received, rates notices etc). Without full disclosure of all relevant information the Ministry of Justice will not be able to process an application and accordingly no grant of aid will be approved.
Once a completed application form is received, the case managers at the Ministry of Justice will then assess a person’s eligibility based on their income, assets and liabilities and number of dependent children in their care. If the applicant has a partner, their partner’s income will also be taken into account in the assessment for eligibility. The applicant must also have reasonable grounds for being involved in the dispute/Court proceedings. The Ministry of Justice will not fund frivolous or vexatious matters.
The current “threshold” of income for the purposes of receiving Legal Aid is outlined in the Legal Services Regulations 2011. For a civil matter, a single person without children must receive less than $22,366 income per year (from all sources) to be eligible to receive Legal Aid, whereas a single person with three children, or an applicant with a partner and two children may receive up to $57,880 per year before they will no longer qualify for Legal Aid.
For more information on the Legal Aid scheme see:
– The Ministry of Justice website
– Legal Services Act 2011
– Legal Services Regulations 2011, or
– Speak to your lawyer