Equal access to justice is a fundamental principle for ensuring democracy. But you still need to be sufficiently informed of your rights and have the necessary financial means to plead your case before a judge. In order to support the most vulnerable litigants, the legislator has set up legal aid, which has recently been reformed. Explanations.
A wide range of eligible procedures
Lawyer or bailiff fees, cost of expert opinions ordered by the judge … A trial can be expensive, and even very expensive when it drags on. Legal aid therefore enables the most disadvantaged citizens to have all or part of these costs borne by the State. Moreover, it is the lawyers representing eligible litigants who are remunerated in this way, since their assistance is essential for an effective defense of rights.
This device can be requested for any type of legal procedure, whether civil, criminal or even administrative, at any time during the case. From divorce to claiming compensation to insurance, through prosecution for a misdemeanor or felony, or even an appeal against a refusal of a building permit or an administrative sanction, anything is possible. Likewise, a transaction, the execution of a court decision or the hearing of a minor by the judge are concerned. The only limit is that the envisaged action is not inadmissible or without merit.
In addition, you can benefit from this assistance regardless of your status in the proceedings: plaintiff or defendant in a civil trial, witness, indicted, accused and convicted or civil party in a criminal trial.
Tax income and assets are the law
Legal aid is, however, considered a last resort. This is why only people who do not already have legal protection insurance covering all of their legal costs can claim it. But it is above all the financial criteria that limit the allocation of this device. Previously, resources of all kinds (salaries, rents, annuities, pensions, alimony, etc.), with the exception of social benefits, were taken into account in these income ceilings. Deemed too complex and unfair, this method of calculation was reformed on January 1, 2021.
More readable, it is now the reference tax income (RFR) of the applicant that prevails or, failing that, his taxable resources for the last six months. A single person can thus claim full coverage of his legal costs if his RFR does not exceed 11,262 euros, while it will be partial (at 55 or 25%) up to 16,890 euros. The amounts then increase according to the composition of the tax household.
The major innovation lies above all in the addition of two cumulative criteria relating to the patrimony of the litigant, which can therefore become prohibitive. The amount of your savings (movable and financial assets) must in fact not exceed that of total legal aid, i.e. 11,261 euros for a single person. Likewise, apart from the main residence and possibly essential for your professional activity, the rest of your real estate assets must not exceed 33,790 euros.
A money problem
The main weakness of legal aid has always been its funding. Indeed, if the litigants avoid heavy bills, the State must ensure a decent remuneration to the auxiliaries of justice for their work. However, the number of admissions to this system has steadily increased over the past decades. There were 388,250 beneficiaries in 1992, against 990,436 in 2018, for a budget of 507 million euros that year. However, according to the comparison of judicial statistics carried out by the European Commission, France allocated at the time the equivalent of a little more than 5 euros per inhabitant for legal aid, for a European average estimated at 6, 50 euros. To change the situation, the provisional budget was therefore set at 534 million euros for 2021, which made it possible to slightly increase the remuneration of lawyers (the unit of value increased from 32 to 34 euros, far from the initial proposal of 40 euros) and to revalue their scales for certain missions.
Simulations and information are available on the Justice.fr website. You can also contact the House of Justice and Law or a Point of Access to Law.