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Legal Aid in France 2013

Tuesday 05 March 2013

A system of legal aid operates in France, in much the same manner as in many other countries, but there are also other options.

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

It 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, access to the system is means-tested, with a sliding scale of support if your income is above the basic income threshold.

The maximum net income in 2013 to obtain legal aid at the rate of 100% is €929 per month, a sum that is increased by €167 for each of two dependant persons living in the household and €106 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, as set out on your tax notice.

If your circumstances have changed radically since your last tax return, on an exceptional basis you may be able to obtain assessment based on your current income.

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

Monthly IncomeAide Juridictionnelle
€930 to €97185%
€972 to €102470%
€1025 to €109855%
€1099 to €118240%
€1183 to €128825%
€1289 to €139315%

Where you are given only partial assistance 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 it from here.

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.

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. As a result, you may need to shop around.

If you do not name an avocat on the application form one will be assigned to you.

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 costs and damages payable by you to the other party.

Assurance de protection juridique

As an alternative to aide juridictionelle, you can to take out an insurance policy for legal assistance, called 'assurance de protection juridique'.

This cover is often included as an optional extra on your French house or car insurance policy and can be added for very little extra cost.

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 minimum 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 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 most 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 their services 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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