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Getting Free Legal Advice in France

Tuesday 02 February 2010

There are three main ways of getting free legal advice in France, only one of which involves seeking legal aid.

French Legal Aid

The main system of legal aid in France is called l'aide juridictionnelle.

It is available to meet the direct costs of an avocat you may need to engage, as well as other related costs, such as assistance from a huissier de justice (bailiff) or expert witness.

The aid is available to anyone who is legally resident in France, whether or not they are of French nationality.

It is also available for most types of legal disputes, whether criminal or civil.

However, to gain access to the system there is a tough test of resources, and a sliding scale of support if your income is above the income threshold.

This basic net income threshold figure for 2010 is €911 per month, a sum that is increased by €162 per month for each of two dependant persons living in the household, and €101 per month for each of any other dependant persons.

The reference year for calculating your entitlement is the previous year of your claim, as indicated on your French tax notice. The figure used is your revenu fiscal de reference.

Where your income exceeds the threshold figure, then you may still be entitled to partial legal aid on a reduced scale, as set out on the following table. The figures are for 2010.

Legal Aid Income Limits
Monthly IncomeAide Juridictionnelle
€916 to €95785%
€958 to €100970%
€1010 to €108255%
€1083 to €116540%
€1166 to €126925%
€1270 to €137215%

Where you are given partial assistance, then you will be obliged to settle all supplementary legal costs.

You can obtain an application form for assistance from a local court or avocat, or you can download from the website of the French Ministry of Justice.

You would be well advised to get help in completion of the form, or it will be returned to you if found to be incorrect. Indeed, our advice would be to find an avocat you want to act for you, and obtain their assistance.

If you win the case, and you are awarded damages, you may be requested to repay some or all of the legal aid awarded to you; by contrast if you lose the case, legal aid will not be available for any costs and damages payable by you to the other party.

There are frequently publicly expressed complaints from the French legal profession concerning the hourly rates they receive for doing legal aid work, with the result that not all are willing to do so.

Assurance de protection juridique

If you do not meet the income threshold to obtain legal aid, then you can to take out in insurance policy for legal assistance, called assurance de protection juridique.

This cover is often included as an optional extra on your household or car insurance policy. It can be added for very little extra cost and we would recommend you take it out with one of these normal policies.

The range of cover through an assurance de protection juridique does vary between different insurers and policies. Some policies may restrict cover to litigation concerning the possessions or persons covered through the policy - such as your car or your house - while other polices may offer more general cover.

The policies will also have restrictions on the maximum legal costs they are prepared to cover, and some policies set a mimimum amount under dispute before the policy can be used.

You will also find that the cover will rarely be operative until you have held the insurance policy for a minimum period, at least six months, and often longer.

The insurance company has no right to impose a particular legal advisor upon you; you are free to choose your own.

It is possible to benefit from both l'aide juridictionnelle and assurance de protection juridique to the extent that the insurance policy does not cover all your needs.

French Legal Advice Centres

Throughout France there exists a network of legal advice centres, located in each of the main towns.

These legal advice centres are called 'Conseil départemental de l'accès au droit (CDAD)'. They are public bodies, not charitable organisations.

The operation of the centres does vary, with some offering free advice to anyone living in the department, and others restricting it to those on a modest income. In general, you should find that if income limits are set, they are quite generous.

The centres rely for their operation on the services of avocats, notaires and other legal professionals, who may be available part of the week to offer advice.

Generally, you need to ring up and make an appointment for a day when the relevant professional advisor is present.

You can find details of your local CDAD by visiting French Legal Advice Centres.

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