Legal aid and your costs
Even if you have legal aid, you are still be required to pay some or all of the cost of your case. Legal aid is not free. You must pay your lawyer a contribution to your legal aid costs at the start of your grant of legal aid. The contribution will be at least $50, but it can be much more than this, depending on your circumstances. Your lawyer does not have to do any work for you until you have paid this.
You may also be asked to pay further contributions for your legal aid as your case progresses. If you need more information about how your contribution is worked out, contact the Legal Services Commission (the Commission).
If you think the contribution is too much, you can appeal to the Commission about it and ask that it be reviewed. Your solicitor cannot change the contribution this is a matter for the Commission to decide at your request.
If you are entitled to any money from your court case, for example if the other side is ordered to pay your legal bill or if you are entitled to a property settlement, you will have to pay your legal aid back out of this money.
If you or any person financially associated with you has any interest in real estate, then your legal aid is really like a loan. (A financially associated person includes your spouse, de facto partner, a trust or company which is financially linked to you, or any other person or entity that can or should help you financially. If you have separated from your spouse, you may be able to show the Commission that you are not financially associated with him or her). The Commission will register a charge over the real estate to make sure that you pay back the whole of your legal aid eventually. You will also have to pay an administration fee of $300, which covers the Commission's costs of preparing and registering the charge documents, eventual removal of the charge, and all administrative work and expenses in the meantime.
The charge stays registered over your or your financially associated person's real estate until it is sold, transferred, re-financed, or further mortgaged. Then the money must be paid back to the Commission. You do not have to make any payments on the charge in the meantime. If the charge stays on all your life, then legal aid will be paid back out of your estate.
The charge will not apply if your legal fees come to less than $2250, but most Family Court cases and many criminal trials cost much more than that. The Commission can provide you with a factsheet which explains the charge in more detail. If you have questions about the charge, ask your solicitor or the Commission now. Once you accept a grant of legal aid, you are bound by all the conditions of aid.
Legal aid is limited. You can only receive aid up to a maximum amount. In family cases, the maximum is $15000 for each parent or guardian. In criminal cases, it is more, but the amount depends on the kind of case.
Ask your solicitor about the limit applicable to you. Your aid will not be extended when the limit is reached, no matter whether your case is finished or not. Even if you are about to start the trial, or are halfway through it, aid will not be extended past the maximum.
Your aid can also be stopped before then if you stop being eligible. You will not necessarily receive the maximum amount of aid. Aid can be stopped if your financial situation changes, or if the Commission considers that your case no longer has reasonable prospects of success. Aid can also be stopped if you refuse to accept our advice, or reject a reasonable offer to settle the case. There may be other situations where aid can be stopped. Also, aid may be granted for some parts of your case and not others. If you need more information, contact the Commission.
When you are granted legal aid, you should receive a letter from the Commission explaining the conditions of aid. Read this carefully. Ask us if you do not understand the conditions.
How to pay a legal aid contribution
You can make payment by using any one of the following options:
- Pay in person at a Commission office by cash or card;
- Pay over the phone by credit or debit card. Telephone 8111 5555 and ask to be put through to the Finance Section;
- By post (cheque or money order only);
- By direct debit into the Commission Bank Account: BSB 105-132; Account No: 488230540. For a reference number, use your file number as listed on the top of your letter from legal aid – eg: 16001234. You MUST use your file number to ensure the payment gets matched to you.
Does Legal Aid cover all costs of going to court?
No. Legal aid does not cover ‘court costs’ or any fines imposed. ('Costs' are charges imposed by the court for administration and are separate from fines). You are legally responsible to pay these amounts. If you are having trouble paying fines you should contact the Court Registrar within the time set for payment to apply to do community service work instead.
In civil matters, (and some criminal matters), the court may order you to pay the costs of the other side. These costs may include solicitors' fees, counsel fees, witnesses expenses, the cost of the transcript, and the cost of sending documents. Such an order is usually made against the losing party in a civil case. Legal aid cannot pay these costs. They are your responsibility and legal action may be taken if they are not paid.