State Legal Aid Act expands the opportunities for legal aid
1. March 2005According to the Legal Aid Act going into force today, there will be changes to the present situation where legal aid could only be requested in civil cases under special circumstances and within the court proceedings framework. From now on, legal aid can also be requested in pre-trial proceedings, for representation in execution proceedings, for drafting a legal document or for paying for other legal counsel or representation.
The state legal aid is meant for people who cannot afford to hire a lawyer and whose knowledge does not enable them to protect their own rights. The legal aid can be requested if the person has no money to pay for the legal service or would not have enough money left for basic necessities after paying for the legal service. The prerequisite for receiving legal aid is also that the applicant has no property to sell for financing the legal aid. The person's living space and necessary vehicle are not considered for sale.
"The law that goes into force today helps many people whose financial status does not allow them to seek the counsel and help of a lawyer. The state aid is crucial in these cases – it must be ensured so that everyone had the equal opportunities to protect their rights in court,“ said Ken-Marti Vaher, the Minister of Justice.
Giving legal aid is dependant on the decision by the courts. In order to receive legal aid, the person must present a request to the court along with a notice about the person's economic status. The Tax and Customs Board will check the truthfulness of the data and the court will then decide the extent to which the state will compensate the legal aid expenses. If the person who received legal aid at the state's expense becomes sufficiently solvent within 5 years, it is possible to demand that the person later repaid the legal aid costs.
The state legal aid will be offered by lawyers, like today, but the new law also envisions the opportunity to offer legal emergency aid to people through NGOs and foundations in order to make legal counsel as accessible as possible.
"We must guarantee the legal aid quality and so the right to represent a person in court is only entitled to the lawyers with whom we can be certain that their legal knowledge is up to the required level. The legal aid is offered for the taxpayer's money and the state must make sure it is not spent frivolously,“ emphasized the Minister Vaher. „Then again, it is important to make the counsel and aid quickly accessible to everyone – and so the state also supports the legal counsel activities of the NGOs. The person can turn to the NGO with a simpler question that presumably does not require the intervention of a court.“
44 million kroons was allocated for offering state legal aid from the state budget this year, a 70% increase from the previous sum. The state also supports the legal counsel services of the NGOs.
In relation to the wider offer of the legal aid service, the number of lawyers should also go up. The new law creates an opportunity for this by offering the persons who have maintained legal bureaus with a long history the possibility to pass the bar exam under special circumstances and to become a member of the bar more quickly than is common.
Additional information about the state legal aid is available from the courts and legal bureaus that are obliged to explain the legal aid principles and order to the persons in need for free, information is also available from the Ministry of Justice website