If you find yourself in need of a lawyer and are wondering when can and can’t you apply for legal aid then hopefully this article will answer your question. Firstly it is important to note that Legal Aid services are broken down in to the following:
- Criminal matters
- Civil matters
Firstly, criminal matters pertain to people that are accused of breaking one of the following:
Statue laws are written laws as agreed upon by the government of South Africa. These laws include Acts that are passed by Parliament such as the Sexual Offences Act or The Constitution of South Africa.
Common laws are not set by Parliament or any level of government for that matter. Instead these laws are determined by the judges in the Courts and therefore are based on a decision made by a judge on a certain case. Common laws include rape, murder, and theft.
So how does this help answer your question of when can and can’t you apply for legal aid? Well, all South African’s are entitled to legal aid of some sorts if they require a lawyer for a criminal matter. This means that there are a lot of avenues that you can take in order to obtain legal representation with regards to a legal matter. For example, you can visit any of the following in order to receive help:
- Visit one of over forty legal aid board justice centres in South Africa.
- Approach the Legal Aid Bureau
- Contact the Legal Resourses Centre
- Visit your local university law faculty or law clinic
It is however important to note that not all of the above will just take on your case. Many, even in a criminal matter, will require you to pass a means test in order to ensure that you cannot actually afford the costs of a lawyer and that is why you are requesting assistance from them. However this is generally not the case with criminal matters.
Civil matters are the second type of legal matters that Legal Aid works with. Civil matters can be defined as law that deals with disputes between private parties or organisations whereby compensation can be awarded. Most law shows and movies such as Erin Brockovich depict civil cases whereby people are suing large corporations for causing them damage such. The story of Erin Brockovich is a perfect example of a civil matter as the people of the town of Hinkley in California, USA, sued an organisation that had contaminated their water supply which resulted in serious health problems for the residents of the town. These residents were awarded $330million in compensation by the court which the organisation was then liable for as they had caused the problem.
However, not every South African is entitled to Legal Aid for civil matters and therefore most legal services providers will require you to pass a means test in order to prove that you are in the lower income category and cannot therefore afford an attorney. Should you not qualify for legal aid in this regard you can approach the same legal services providers as mentioned above and they could possibly help you, but there are no guarantees.
Therefore whether you require civil or criminal legal assistance, there are routes that can be taken in order to help you with you matter. It is important that you try and get legal representation should you be sued for any reason or be charged with a criminal offense and you can get a full list of all of the legal representatives in your town or province by visiting www.lssa.org.za or by calling (012) 362 1729.