There are situations in life when legal assistance is needed. Legal fees and general costs can be extremely costly and out of reach for many low income earners – Luckily in Australia there are free community based legal aid services. These services can be found across all States and Territories.
In addition to government-funded programs, there are also many large, medium and small law firms, which provide pro bono services.
Below is information on how to access these free legal services including links to different resource for each location.
Australia Capital Territory
Legal Aid ACT provides many services for those in need. Generally services are targeted toward economically and socially disadvantaged people. There is a legal aid telephone help line, 1 300 654 314 and is open Monday to Friday 8:30am to 5:00pm. If you have a legal problem you can request a free 30-minute appointment that is face-to-face with a lawyer. This appointment is not means tested.
Legal Aid ACT applies a number of means tests to cases that require either funding or lawyer representation in court. These include means of the subject, legal merit and other eligibility tests. Dependent on these tests you may be subject to a payment contribution. There are legal aid representatives at most court houses for emergency services if you have not made an appointment. Find help online here.
The WA Legal Aid provides a full range of services for those seeking help in legal matters. There are dedicated teams to help with different aspects of legal needs. Basic information and advice offers the core of their services. Yet there are dedicated teams that service issues surrounding family and children’s services, youth law, prison visiting, domestic violence, civil litigation, immigration services, social inclusion and duty lawyers in criminal courts.
The WA Legal Aid has a great document on how they consider grants, funding and means tests for their customers, you can find it here. They also have an informational website on different issues that you may run into and provide standard answers.
The Northern Territory Legal Aid Commission provides access to a lawyer generally only if your case is before the courts in the NT. Initial assistance is provided by in-house lawyers and anyone is entitled to the first free advice session. If you have an ongoing legal issue you will be required to pay a small contribution to the Commission or private lawyer if you are directed to one. The NT also offers a Legal Aid Helpline, available to everyone regardless of your financial assistance.
Legal aid for financially disadvantaged in Queensland is only for those experiencing family or domestic violence, for a child protection matter, separation for couples, if you have been charged with an offence, consumer debt matters, or an anti-discrimination claim. The Legal Aid in QLD does not give legal advice or representation for commercial transactions, buying or selling real estate, wills, personal injury, workers compensation or taxation, governmental matters or business matters.
The best part of the SA Legal Aid website is it is the most comprehensive in explaining your eligibility for legal aid. Their means test includes income, assets, proof of means, and includes a Statutory Charge for anyone that owns property or land. If you own property or land, the value of the legal aid is charged against your property if it exceeds $2200 and you are responsible for repayment of the amount eventually. There is also a merits test to determine if the matter is an appropriate expenditure of public funds.
SA Legal Aid provides help in normal matters like other States and Territories such as family matters and law, criminal law, child protection issues, and also includes disaster relief and recovery issues as well.
New South Wales
NSW is one the easiest Legal Aids in the country to see if you meet their means test because they provide a Means Test Indicator directly on their website. Although it is not a definitive decision, it does give a standard indication if you will meet their means test for legal aid in your situation. With lots of information provided on their website about the most common types of disputes you can get an understanding of your situation and the law. Free legal advice by phone, workshops and webinars provides a solid education experience as well.
Legal Aid Victoria provides legal aid services in multiple languages just like every State or Territory in Australia. With a diverse population the availability of materials, interpreters or lawyers in your own language can often be arranged. Legal Aid VIC deals with similar cases as do many other areas including child and family law, criminal offences, mental health and disability, and money, debt or other fines. Legal aid cases have cost ceilings that you should be aware of when you seek their help. At a certain limit you may be left to continue on your own.
Tasmania’s Legal Aid Commission website is not as robust as some other areas in Australia, but does provide the basics. An FAQ on their website answers your basic questions but their services still include a telephone help line, duty lawyers for court appearances, and clinic advice services for in person visits. Community Legal education is also provided through workshops or seminars and Family Dispute Resolution Conferences help couples through separation, child custody and divorce issues.
No matter where you live in Australia there are legal aid services to help you. From free online information, free telephone advice lines and free legal aid to those who qualify for a duty solicitor you have great resources at your nearest office. Most Legal Aid offices offer at least one free 30 minute legal advice session, but also provide multiple education opportunities from online resources and publications to community workshops and seminars.
If you do not qualify for Legal Aid the National Pro Bono Organisation may be able to help you with legal services on a pro bono basis. Also, for most personal injury cases there are litigators that are willing to work for a percentage of the claim award with zero upfront payments. Find a local personal injury lawyer that works on these terms. There are a number of options as laid out above for when you run afoul of the law.