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Legal Aid and other legal help


There are different government-funded schemes that provide you with advice from a lawyer when you can’t afford to hire one yourself.

The main scheme is called “Legal Aid” – the government pays the fees of private lawyers to represent people who can’t afford to pay a lawyer themselves, or, sometimes in criminal cases, provides government lawyers who work for the Public Defence Service.

Legal Aid is usually provided as a loan, but in some cases you may not have to pay it back.

In criminal cases there are also two other schemes that provide you with free legal help early on, before you’re assigned a Legal Aid lawyer:

  • if you’ve been arrested you can talk to a lawyer for free over the phone – this is the PDLA (Police Detention Legal Assistance) scheme
  • and on your first day in court for your case a free “Duty Lawyer” can advise and represent you, including helping you decide whether to plead guilty or not guilty and helping you apply for bail.

For non-criminal cases, there is also a family/civil Legal Aid scheme – like a dispute with your ex-partner in the Family Court about care arrangements for your children, or an employment or ACC dispute. This chapter explains about how to apply for this type of Legal Aid, how it’s decided whether you’ll get it, whether you’ll have to pay any of it back, and what you can do if you’re refused Legal Aid.

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