I want to keep my legal problem out of court. Can Legal Aid WA help?
Yes, in many situations Legal Aid WA can help to resolve disputes out of court. Legal Aid WA has daily legal advice appointments and a minor assistance program to help people resolve their legal problems through negotiation or mediation where possible.
A advisor at a legal advice appointment will let you know your options and help you make a decision about what to do. Once you have had legal advice, an advisor may assist you to negotiate with the other party in order to keep the matter from going to court.
For example: someone owes you money but you don't want to go to court because it can be a lengthy and expensive process. A Legal Aid WA advisor, through the minor assistance program, may be able to assist you to write a letter of demand to the other person on your behalf.
Legal Aid WA also has a family law Family Dispute Resolution centre to help people mediate issues such as looking after children and dividing property after separation. The Family Dispute Resolution program is a lawyer assisted mediation process, giving people with the opportunity to reach an agreement about some family law issues without having to go through the court system. However, sometimes it is not possible to avoid court and you should make an application for legal aid if you:
- have a matter pending in court or
- have unsuccessfully tried to resolve a dispute or
- do not feel comfortable trying to negotiate with the other party for reasons such as domestic violence.
How do I apply for legal aid?
If you want a lawyer to represent you, you must fill in a Legal Aid Application form available from the Legal Aid WA website, any Legal Aid WA office or from your own lawyer. Once you have filled in the form, bring or send it to your local Legal Aid WA office. You can also send your application by fax on (08) 9325 5430. If you fax your application, make sure you also send the original by post in case your fax is not received by Legal Aid WA.
Will I get legal aid?
You must meet all of the following criteria to be eligible for a grant of legal aid:
- Means: Your income and assets are within the limits or thresholds set by the National Means Test
- Guidelines: Your legal problem is within the guidelines set by the State or Commonwealth Government and sufficient funds are available and
- Forum: Your legal matter is likely to be dealt with by a court in Western Australia.
Is legal aid free?
Legal Aid may ask you to pay or contribute to all or part of your legal costs. The amount you have to pay will depend on your financial situation. You may have to pay or agree to pay before any work is done, during the grant or at the end of the grant of aid.
You can pay or contribute to your legal costs by:
- paying cash up front or over a period of time
- agreeing to a memorial over your property (this means that you must pay your legal aid costs before you can sell your property)
- allowing Legal Aid WA to lodge a caveat over your property, or that of any financially associated person (this means that Legal Aid WA must be paid before the property can be sold).
Can I choose my own lawyer?
You can ask for a particular lawyer when you fill in the Legal Aid Application form. Legal Aid WA does not have to give you the lawyer of your choice, however you have a better chance of getting the lawyer of your choice if the lawyer signs the Solicitor's Certificate at the back of the form. The lawyer should also send a covering letter along with your application to Legal Aid WA.
How long does it take to find out if legal aid has been granted and how do I find out?
Most applications (80%) are processed within 5 days. There may be delays if all of the information asked for is not provided. If your matter is considered urgent, a decision will be made within 24 hours.
Legal Aid WA will write to you (and your lawyer if a lawyer applied for you) and tell you whether you have been granted or refused legal aid. Make sure your current mailing address is on your application form so you get a copy of this letter.
Why didn't I get legal aid?
You may be refused legal aid if:
- Means: Your income and assets are outside the limits set by the National Means Test
- Guidelines: Your legal problem is not within the guidelines set by the State or Commonwealth Government: or
Legal Aid WA did not have sufficient funds available
- Forum: Your legal matter is not likely to be dealt with by a court in Western Australia.
You will get a letter that tells you why you were refused legal aid and what your rights are for a reconsideration and review of this decision.
It is not unusual for the other party or the co-accused in your matter to be granted legal aid when you have been refused or vice versa.
What can I do if I have been refused legal aid?
Reconsideration: If you have been refused legal aid, you can write and ask us to reconsider the decision. You should do this within 28 days. Make sure you address all the matters raised in the refusal letter. You should also include any further information that you have not already given to Legal Aid WA. You should also tell Legal Aid WA about your next court dates and what is going to happen on those dates. Legal Aid WA usually takes less than seven working days to decide if you will get legal aid on reconsideration. Legal Aid WA will write and tell you what it has decided.
Review: If you are refused legal aid on Reconsideration, you can write to Legal Aid WA and ask for this decision to be reviewed by an independent Review Committee. You should do this within 28 days. Make sure you address all the matters raised in the refusal letter. You should also include any further information that you have not already given to Legal Aid WA. You should also tell Legal Aid WA about your next court dates and what is going to happen on those dates. It usually takes between six to eight weeks for your matters to be decided by the Review Committee. Legal Aid WA will write and tell you what the Review Committee decided.
What is a conflict of interest?
Legal Aid WA has a conflict of interest when there is a real and sensible possibility that the interests of a client would or may appear to be prejudiced. Some examples of where there is a conflict are:
- The other party or your co-accused has had a Legal Aid WA lawyer in relation to the same legal matter
- You have told your lawyer something that makes them unable to continue (eg you want to defend charge but have told the lawyer that you did the crime)
You can still apply for legal aid if there is a conflict. If you are granted legal aid, you will be given a lawyer that does not work at Legal Aid WA or a different private lawyer.
If I have filled out a Legal Aid application form before, do I have to do it again?
You do not need to fill out a new application form if you want Legal Aid WA to reconsider or review a decision.
You may need to fill in a new application form if you already have a current grant of legal aid and there are new matters that you also need help with. Ask your lawyer about this if you are not sure.
Can I transfer an existing grant of legal aid to another lawyer?
You can ask for your grant of legal aid to be transferred to another lawyer but there is no guarantee that Legal Aid WA will do this. Transfers are not given to everyone because there is often a double up in costs when another lawyer takes over. If you want a transfer you should write to Legal Aid WA. Your letter must say why you want another lawyer and if possible which lawyer you want. Legal Aid WA usually takes less than seven working days to decide if your matter will be transferred. Legal Aid WA will write and tell you what it has decided.
Are Legal Aid lawyers "real" lawyers?
All of Legal Aid WA's lawyers are fully qualified and are admitted to practice law in Western Australia. Many of our lawyers also have degrees in other areas including psychology, commerce, business and arts and have worked in various fields before beginning their work at Legal Aid WA. Some of our lawyers have over 20 years of legal experience in various areas of the law including family law (some of whom have special accreditation) civil law and criminal law. You can find out information about our lawyers here.
Legal Aid WA's lawyers are dedicated to providing an excellent service to all clients and Legal Aid WA is accredited by the Law Society of Western Australia in quality practice.
Is the 1300 number toll free and where does it go?
The 1300 number has a standard call charge of the cost of a local call, regardless of where you are calling from in Western Australia. The call comes through to the Legal Aid WA InfoLine and you will be put through to an Information Officer in our Perth office.
Last reviewed: 01/01/2008