Legal aid

This publication contains information on legal aid paid for by the state. Further information on legal aid and the contact information of the legal aid offices can be found at www.oikeus.fi. Contact information of advocates can be found at www.asianajajaliitto.fi.

Introduction

It is often necessary to have legal assistance in court proceedings and in other legal matters.

Basically, everyone should self pay for the legal assistance that they may need. If someone cannot afford the necessary assistance, it may be provided to them partially or fully at the expense of the state. This publication contains information on legal aid paid for by the state.

For purposes of legal aid, the state has a network of legal aid offices. In these offices, legal aid is provided by public legal aid attorneys. Moreover, legal aid can be provided by advocates and by other lawyers licensed to assist clients in trials for legal assistance.

Updated on August 25, 2014
Ministry of Justice

What kinds of matter can you get legal aid for

Legal aid is given in any sort of legal matter, for example:

  • divorce, distribution of matrimonial property, maintenance, marriage settlement
  • testament, estate inventory, distribution of a decedent's estate
  • assistance to debtors, creditors and guarantors
  • collection of wage arrears, termination of employment, notice
  • collection of rent arrears, notice, eviction
  • deed of sale, annulment of sale, price reduction
  • assistance to suspected offenders and to victims of crime, restraining order
  • appeals relating e.g. to welfare, taking into care and social insurance payments

Legal aid is not given, if the person has legal expenses insurance that covers the matter in question. Such insurance cover may be included e.g. in a household insurance policy, a labour union policy or a farming policy.

However, legal aid can be granted so as to cover the deductible of legal expenses insurance, provided that the applicant's income and assets are such that he or she would qualify for legal aid free of charge.

Legal aid is not given to companies or corporations. A private person pursuing a business may be given legal aid for a court case pertaining to the business; for other matters pertaining to a business, legal aid can be given only for special reasons.

What does legal aid cover

The nature and importance of the matter have an effect on what services are covered by legal aid in any given case.

Court cases

In court cases, everyone normally needs the assistance of a legally qualified attorney, for instance for purposes of bringing an action or appearing for the defense in the trial of someone charged with an offence. However, no attorney's appointments are given in clear cases, such as undisputed divorces or simple criminal cases sanctioned with a fine. Even for such cases, the legal aid offices offer advice and consultation.

The client has a choice of attorneys, between a public legal aid attorney working at the state legal aid office, an advocate and other lawyer licensed to assist clients in trials for legal assistance.

If legal aid is granted to a person, the state pays the fee of the attorney in full or in part, depending on the available means of the recipient of legal aid. The work of the attorney can be compensated for a maximum of 80 hours. However, in special cases the court may grant a dispensation from this limit. In addition, the court charges and other similar payments are waived for a recipient of legal aid.

The state will not compensate the opposing party for any legal costs in the event that the recipient of legal aid loses the case.

Other matters

Legal aid can be given also in matters that are not to be brought before a court. There may be a need for assistance e.g. in the drawing up of a document, such as an estate inventory or an agreed distribution of matrimonial property.

In certain legal problems, all that is needed is a lawyer's advice. In these matters, legal aid is given by public legal aid attorneys. The recipient of legal aid cannot choose a private lawyer.

In matters not to be brought before a court, legal aid can be given, free of charge or against a deductible, for at most 80 hours per matter. In addition, the document charges and the possible costs of interpretation and translation are waived for a recipient of legal aid.

How to apply for legal aid

Legal aid is always applied for from a state legal aid office. The application can be filed with any of the legal aid offices, regardless of where the applicant lives. In most cases, the client's first contact is to the attorney of choice, who then draws up the application for legal aid.

Legal aid can be applied for on the Internet. The electronic Legal Aid Application Form can be found in at www.oikeus.fi under the heading Legal Aid.

The application can be filed in writing or orally. The application form is accessible on the Finnish judicial web portal www.oikeus.fi under the link Lomakkeita. The form can also be obtained from legal aid offices, courthouses, law offices and legal counselling offices.

The applicant must present evidence of his or her financial circumstances and of the matter for which legal aid is being sought. The income and expenses of the applicant, as well as his or her assets and liabilities, are to be accounted for by way of receipts or other documentation. The necessary information can usually be found in bank account statements, wage sheets, tax receipts or e.g. from a social welfare decision. The correctness of the information submitted electronically is verified by spot checks.

The legal aid office has the right to contact the authorities and insurance companies so as to check the information that the applicant has provided on his or her financial circumstances. Also banks are under the obligation to give the legal aid office the assistance it needs, if there is reason to doubt the reliability of the information by the applicant. If bank information will be requested, the applicant must be notified in advance of the request.

Means-testing

Legal aid is granted on the basis of the applicant's income, expenditures, wealth and maintenance liability. The legal aid office calculates the applicant's monthly available means, as follows:

Income consists of wages, pension and per diems, as well as maintenance support, child allowances, other benefits and capital income. Also the income of the spouse, domestic partner or registered partner of the applicant is taken into account. The income of the spouse is not, however, taken into account, if the applicant is a suspect or a defendant in a criminal case or if the spouse is the opposing party in the case at hand.

Taxes shall be deducted from the gross monthly income. Deductions shall likewise be made for housing costs, day-care charges, maintenance support payments and the scheduled payments in enforcement or debt adjustment proceedings. In addition, a deduction of EUR 300 shall be made for each child under the age of majority, 18 years.

Cost of legal aid

The expenses to be collected from the recipient of legal aid consist of the deductible and the legal aid charge.

Debuctible

The recipient of legal aid is to pay a percentage of the fee of the attorney (basic deductible). The percentage depends on the monthly available means of the applicant as follows:

Single person

Available means up to Basic deductible
EUR 600 0 %
EUR 800 20 %
EUR 900 30 %
EUR 1,050 40 %
EUR 1,150 55 %
EUR 1,300 75 %

When the monthly available means exceed EUR 1,300, legal aid will not be granted.

Spouses together

Available means up to Deductible
EUR 1,100 0 %
EUR 1,400 20 %
EUR 1,600 30 %
EUR 2,000 40 %
EUR 2,200 55 %
EUR 2,400 75 %

When the monthly available means exceed EUR 2,400, legal aid will not be granted.

The wealth of the recipient of legal aid increases his or her liability, if the value of bank deposits, shares in a housing company, real estates or other assets exceeds EUR 5,000 (supplementary deductible). Liabilities are deducted from the assets. A permanent home, a normal recreational residence and a car or loans taken for the acquisition of these are, however, omitted from the calculation.

In inventories of the estate, assets of the deceased are fully taken into account, and they are added to the amount of the supplementary deductible (increased supplementary deductible). In addition, assets received e.g. as an inheritance or in the distribution of matrimonial property are taken into account when determining the amount of supplementary deductible.

The amount of the deductible is determined once the matter has been settled. An advance towards the deductible may be collected.

The recipient of legal aid must inform the legal aid office of changes in his or her income, expenditures or wealth. If the financial circumstances of the recipient of legal aid change, the legal aid office may amend the legal aid decision in a corresponding manner. When the decision is amended, a decision is also made whether the amendment is to apply retroactively.

Legal aid charge

The legal aid charge amounts to EUR 70 and it is collected from all applicants except for those who are entitled to legal aid free of charge, that is, without a deductible.

How to appeal against a legal aid decision

If an application for legal aid is rejected, the legal aid office will provide appeal instructions to the applicant. A rejected application can be submitted to the court for a hearing. The applicant should deliver the submission to the legal aid office, which can also itself rectify the decision. If the legal aid office deems that there is no reason for a rectification, it will forward the matter to the court, which will then decide on the matter.

Public defender for the suspect of a criminal offence

Under certain circumstances, the suspect of a criminal offence has the right to a public defender, at state expense, for purposes of the pre-trial investigation and the trial. A public defender will be appointed on request to persons suspected of aggravated offences and to persons who are arrested or detained because of the offence. In addition, the court may on its own motion appoint a public defender to a person who is under 18 years old or incapable of seeing to his or her own defense.

In these cases, the public defender will be appointed regardless of the financial circumstances of the person. The fee of the defender will be paid by the state. However, if the person is convicted of the offence, he or she must compensate the state for the defender's fee, unless his or her means qualify him or her for legal aid. The amount of the compensation is determined in accordance with the rules on legal aid.

The appointment as public defender can be given to a public legal aid attorney, an advocate or other lawyer licensed to assist clients in trials for legal assistance. In most cases, the appointment is given to the person suggested by the suspect of the offence.

Attorney and support person for a victim of a crime

If a person becomes a victim of domestic violence, a sexual offence or some other offence of violence, the court may appoint an attorney and a support person for the victim for the pre-trial investigation and the trial. The attorney helps the victim during the judicial treatment of the case and the support person provides mental support.

The attorney and the support person are appointed regardless of the income of the victim. Their fees and expenses are paid by the state.

Who’s who

Advocate: A lawyer who is a member of the Finnish Bar Association and whose activities are supervised by the Bar Association and the Chancellor of Justice.

Public legal aid attorney: A lawyer working at a state legal aid office. The activities of public legal aid attorneys are supervised in the same manner as those of advocates.

A licensed attorney: A lawyer who has been granted permit by the Licensed Attorneys Board to act as an attorney. The activities of the licensed attorneys are monitored in a similar manner as the activities of advocates.