Legal aid is the act of providing legal help to those who cannot afford it. Legal aid is a globally accepted provision.
What services does Legal aid provide? Legal aid provides services related to legal advice and representation in matters of domestic violence, education, employment, family, health, tax, housing, foreclosure, immigration, utilities, and public benefits.
What is Legal Aid?
Now let us explore the concept of legal aid. In simpler terms, legal aid means that if you are poor and you need legal help, then you can get it for free because your government or the state will pay for it.
Legal aid is an important constituent of the legal framework in a democracy. The concept of legal aid comes from the fact that in any democratic system, all the citizens whether rich or poor are equal before the law.
There will be lawyers and clients in any legal system. The clients may come from different economic backgrounds. Some of them may be rich while some of them may be poor.
The concept of legal aid stems from the fact that the poor and downtrodden people may not be able to afford a lawyer’s fees. However, everybody is equal before the law and everybody deserves justice.
So in order to provide justice to the poor and needy in legal matters, the provision of legal aid was devised. However, the person seeking legal aid would need to prove that he cannot afford legal fees.
Legal aid exists as a full-fledged legal aid system in a large number of countries. Some of these countries are USA, UK, Canada, Australia, South Africa, Denmark, Italy, and India to name a few.
SERVICES WITHIN THE LEGAL AID SYSTEM
Now that we have understood legal aid, let us go ahead and enlist the services that come under the purview of legal aid. The legal aid system provides legal services related to the following matters –
Issues like domestic violence, divorce, child custody etc. A large number of women and children suffer from domestic violence and abuse. They may seek legal aid especially the children being minors.
Legal aid is also applicable in case of a divorced couple fighting for child custody. It is applicable also to any other dispute involving your children.
Issues like possession claims, unlawful eviction and property disputes.
Issues related to the education sector. This may widely include children.
Issues related to discrimination or harassment at the workplace, labor wages etc. Issues related to the violation of labor laws or inhumane working conditions.
- Public benefits
Issues related to government benefits like social security, food, healthcare, insurance etc.
Issues related to public utility services like gas, electricity, water supply etc. If a public utility service is owned and managed by a private player, then such a case would fall under the consumer rights section.
Issues related to income tax or any other tax levied by the government. Now here one may argue that if legal aid is for poor people then how come we are including taxpayers into it.
Here one must understand that a low-income group may be eligible to seek legal aid. There is a lower income threshold or limit set for that. Any individual whose income falls below that threshold would be eligible for legal aid.
Issues related to immigrants, refugees, and immigration law. This may involve immigrants and refugees living in a country where they don’t have enough income to pay legal fees.
When a lender lends money to a borrower and for some reason the borrower is unable to pay back the loan. Then in such a case, the lender tries to recover the money by selling the collateral attached to the loan. This is called foreclosure.
Issues related to foreclosure generally involve cases where the borrower tries to seek free legal help or legal aid to prevent the foreclosure of his asset. The asset may be a property or any valuable item.
A disabled person is entitled to free legal help. This may include those who are disabled by birth or have been disabled due to an accident.
- Consumer rights
Issues related to consumer complaints. Disputes related to the purchase of a defective product.
LEGAL AID IN CRIMINAL CASES
Legal aid in criminal cases has to be understood separately. A criminal offence may include acts of rape, fraud, murder or terrorism. The underlying fundamental of legal aid remains the same here.
Suppose if you are a convict in a criminal case and you don’t have the money to fight the case. Then the state will bear your legal expenses and appoint a lawyer to fight your case.
In criminal cases, the court decides whether a person will get legal aid or not. In civil cases, the court is not involved when it comes to deciding a legal aid benefit.
COMPONENTS OF A LEGAL AID SYSTEM
Legal aid is provided by a lawyer to a client who can’t afford it. A legal aid system may consist of the following components –
- Law firms
- Legal clinics
- State-affiliated help groups.
It is important to note here that every country has its own legal aid program. So there might be discrepancies in the services and the functionalities of the program of each country.
The legal aid system of one country may look different from another. However, all follow the same basic fundamental principle of legal aid.
- Is legal aid free for all?
Legal aid is a system of free legal help to those who can’t afford it.
- Can a corporate or a business entity seek legal aid?
If a business or a corporation has filed for bankruptcy, then they may seek free legal help. However, a lot would depend on the bankruptcy laws of that country.
- Does legal aid help in winning a case?
No, legal aid only ensures access to free legal help for those who cannot pay the lawyer’s fees.