What is public legal aid?
Public legal aid is a form of assistance provided by the state, it is a way to ensure the right to a fair trial, which guarantees equal access to justice in order to achieve legitimate rights or interests in court, including for enforcement of judgments or other enforceable titles. The legal basis for granting public legal aid is OUG 51/2008 on public legal aid in civil matters.
What can it be granted for?
Public legal aid may be granted in the form of:
- payment of the fee of a lawyer to provide legal assistance before or during a trial;
- payment of the expert, translator or interpreter;
- payment of the bailiff’s fee;
- exemptions, reductions, staggering or deferrals from the payment of stamp duties in a process or in the enforcement phase.
Who can benefit from public legal aid?
Public legal aid may be requested by any person who cannot afford the costs of the trial without endangering his or her family’s maintenance.
The general conditions required by law are:
- if the average monthly net income per family member, in the last two months prior to the application, is below the level of 300 lei, in which case the amounts are advanced in full by the state.
- if the average monthly net income per family member, in the last two months prior to the application, is between 300 lei and 600 lei, the amounts of money that constitute public legal aid are advanced by the state in proportion of 50%.
Public legal aid may be granted in other cases, in proportion to the applicant’s needs, where the certain or estimated costs of the proceedings are likely to limit his or her effective access to justice.
The amount of public legal aid granted, separately or cumulatively, in any of the forms may not exceed during a period of one year the maximum amount equivalent to 10 minimum gross salaries per country at the level of the year in which the request for grant was made.
It is considered a family member the person who has his/her common address or residence and co-hosts with the applicant, his/her children or other direct descendants up to 18 years of age dependent on the applicant, as well as the children or other direct descendants in age over 18 years, but not more than 26 years, if he is continuing his studies and maintaining the applicant.
How to apply for public legal aid?
In order to protect the rights and interests of persons who do not have the necessary means to pay a lawyer, when the interests of justice so require, within each Romanian Bar Association, the Judicial Assistance Service (S.A.J.) was established.
The legal framework governing the aspects presented above can be found in Subsection 3 Legal Aid, Part I. Cases and conditions for granting legal aid, art.150, art.154, art 160, art. 169 ff. of the Statute of the Lawyer Profession with subsequent amendments and completions. According to Law no. 51/1995 for the organization and exercise of the legal profession, amended by Law no. 46 of March 8, 2019 and the Statute of the legal profession with subsequent amendments and completions, “(..) legal aid means legal assistance provided by a lawyer”.
Bars provide legal assistance:
- in criminal cases where the defense is mandatory according to the provisions of the Code of Criminal Procedure or according to the provisions of special laws or in any other situation where the judicial body considers it necessary to appoint an ex officio defense counsel;
- in any other cases than the criminal ones, as a way of granting public legal aid, in accordance with the law;
- at the request of local public administration bodies.
Out-of-court assistance is provided by the legal aid service on the basis of a written request which shall include the following:
- the object and nature of the request;
- personal identity and numerical code;
- the domicile and material condition of the applicant and his family;
- evidence of the income of the applicant and his family;
- evidence of maintenance or payment obligation.
The application will include, in addition to the above, a statement on the applicant’s own responsibility in order to specify whether she/he has received public legal aid during the last 12 months, and if so, in what form, for what reason and in what amount.
The request for exemption, reduction or postponement from the payment of court fees due in the enforcement phase will also be addressed to the court.
In conclusion, “free access to justice” is a constitutional principle applicable to the fundamental rights and freedoms of every citizen.
Regardless of the applicant’s material condition, she/he will benefit from free defence and assistance through a lawyer delegated by the bar in the city where she/he lives.