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Legal aid is the use of government money to pay for people to get legal advice, and help with mediation. The Legal Aid Agency is the government body responsible for providing legal aid in England and Wales. If you receive legal aid, you will be able to get free legal advice from a solicitor.
The type of legal aid that will be available to you will depend on:
- The type of case that you are seeking legal aid for.
- Your financial situation. In some cases, you will need to have a ‘means test’, to demonstrate that you are unable to pay for legal advice yourself.
- The strength of your case. This is referred to as a ‘merits test’.
Legal aid for care proceedings:
- All parents whose children are subject to care proceedings automatically get legal aid to cover the cost of a solicitor advising and representing them. Any other person with parental responsibility for a child subject to care proceedings is entitled to free legal aid. This legal aid can also be used to instruct a barrister to advise and represent them at court. It does not matter what the parent earns, or what savings they have. The strength of their case is also irrelevant for the purposes of legal aid. This type of legal aid is referred to as ‘non-means and non-merits tested’ legal aid.
Legal aid for pre-proceedings:
Parents and those with parental responsibility also get legal aid for the pre-proceedings process. If children’s services give a parent a public law outline letter, they can at that point go to a solicitor to receive legal aid. This letter will cover the the cost of a solicitor attending children’s services meetings with them and helping to negotiate with children’s services. If children’s services issue care proceedings, then their solicitor will apply for a legal aid certificate, and can then represent the parent in the care proceedings.
Legal aid is also available in some other situations. For example, if a relative wants to apply for an order for a child to live with them because they do not think that the child has been properly cared for by their parents, or if there is domestic abuse in the home. However, in this situation legal aid will be means tested (i.e. it depends on how much money the person wanting legal aid earns or what savings they have). The person wanting legal aid will have to prove they have a good case (they must meet the ‘merits’ test). There are also strict evidential criteria as to what demonstrates child abuse or domestic abuse (this is known as ‘gateway evidence’).
A specialist children law solicitor will be able to advise as to whether someone is eligible for legal aid.