Legal aid is government funding for a trained professional to give assistance to those who cannot afford to pay for legal advice or to have someone represent them in court. In April 2013 significant changes to the provision of legal aid were brought into effect in England and Wales. These pages offer information to people living with HIV about how the changes to legal aid may impact on them and alternates for getting legal advice.
Getting advice and legal aid
There have been significant changes to legal aid
Why would people living with HIV need legal aid?
People living with HIV may need to access legal aid for both civil law cases (e.g. housing, family) and criminal law cases (e.g. assault).
People living with HIV are disproportionately affected by poverty, so they may need legal advice to help access necessary welfare entitlements, e.g. help with housing.
They are also more likely to found in the two groups most likely to need legal aid: migrants/asylum seekers and prisoners
People living with HIV may also choose to seek judicial review. Judicial review is a form of court proceeding in which the judge reviews the lawfulness of a decision or action, or a failure to act, by a public body exercising a public function. People with HIV may need to rely on judicial review in order to get fair access to social care, housing and benefits.
Some people with HIV face prosecution for “reckless” or “intentional” transmission of HIV to others. These cases are rare. Poor investigation or prosecution of such cases poses a real risk to the rights and dignity of people living with HIV and expert legal advice is essential to prevent this. You can find out in the section on criminal prosecutions
How can I tell if I’m entitled to legal aid?
Within the United Kingdom there are three different legal systems: England and Wales; Scotland; and Northern Ireland. Each system has its own criteria for access.
There is a Government Legal aid calculator to see if you’re entitled to Legal aid: https://www.gov.uk/check-legal-aid#before-you-start.
Even if you aren’t eligible for legal aid, there are some specialised advice services available to help you with complex issues including asylum and migration, welfare and housing, discrimination and employment and domestic violence.
What are the changes to legal aid in England and Wales?
In April 2013 the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (LAPSO) came into effect for England and Wales. This Act took out whole categories of law applicable for legal aid. In other cases, people will only qualify if certain criteria are met.
The areas that no longer qualify for legal aid include:
- Family cases where there isn’t proof of domestic abuse, forced marriage or abduction.
- Immigration cases not involving asylum or detention.
- Employment cases not involving human trafficking or a contravention of the Equality Act 2010
The budget for criminal legal aid has also been cut by £215m.
NAT opposed many of the key changes to legal aid. See our response to the proposal
I am a migrant, can I get legal aid or free legal advice in England and Wales?
In England and Wales, you may be entitled to legal aid if you are an asylum seeker (see section below for more detail). Any immigration problems not involving asylum or detention are no longer applicable for legal aid in England and Wales.
However, even if you are not entitled to legal aid there are organisations that can offer you specialist advice and support.
Migrant Resource Centre - Offers a range of immigration related advice services for migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in London only.
Bail for Immigration Detainees – an independent charity that exists to challenge immigration detention in the UK. They work with asylum seekers and migrants in removal centres and prisons to secure their release.
Refugee Council –Offers UK wide advice and practical support to refugees and asylum seekers.
Children’s legal centre – UK wide legal advice for migrant children across the UK.
You can get UK-wide advice from THT Direct helpline on 0808 802 1221 or register for online advice on www.tht.org.uk/myhiv/Services/Online-advice
If you are a migrant in Scotland or Northern Ireland, please see the sections below for information on legal advice and legal aid.
I am an asylum seeker, can I get legal aid in England and Wales?
Asylum seekers have a right to access legal advice and, because the vast majority of asylum seekers are not entitled to work, most are eligible to receive free advice through Legal Aid because it is mean tested.
There are organisations that can offer you advice, including your eligibility to get legal aid.
Refugee Council –Offers UK wide advice and practical support to refugees and asylum seekers.
You can get UK wide advice from THT Direct helpline on 0808 802 1221 or register for online advice on www.tht.org.uk/myhiv/Services/Online-advice
Asylum Aid’s legal team provide advice to people who are in are in fear of returning to their own country of origin. This includes individuals, families and children seeking asylum, refugees with families overseas, victims of trafficking and domestic violence and stateless people. They can only provide representation to clients who live within the London area, apart from under exceptional circumstances. Due to cuts in legal aid they cannot provide representation to people in immigration detention.
www. Asylumaid.org.uk. Advice line 0207 354 9264
Children’s legal centre – legal advice for migrant children across the UK.
Many migrant organisations can also help asylum-seekers, please see the section above for more details.
If you are an asylum seeker in Scotland or Northern Ireland, please see the sections below for information on legal advice and legal aid.
Can I get legal aid or advice for issues around housing and benefits?
It is possible to get legal aid in England and Wales for a limited number of housing issues if you meet certain criteria, such as if you are on a low income or receive certain benefits.
There are organisations that can give you advice about housing issues:
Shelter can offer legal aid, for each of the four nations in the UK, advice for people who meet the criteria to receive it, but can also offer wider advice on housing issues.
Crisis is the national charity for single homeless people, offering housing advice projects.
For details of your rights in particular housing situations you can get advice from citizens advice .
You can get advice on benefit issues from Disability Rights UK .
You can get advice from THT Direct helpline on 0808 802 1221 or register for online advice on www.tht.org.uk/myhiv/Services/Online-advice
Can I get legal aid or advice for issues relating to relationships and family?
The changes to legal aid in 2013 in England and Wales now means that the majority of family cases have now been taken out of scope for legal aid.
You can now only get legal aid, subject to your income, if there is proof of domestic abuse, forced marriage or child abduction.
In some cases you are still able to get advice and support, even if you’re not eligible for legal aid.
Rights of women provide free and confidential legal advice to women in England and Wales.
Women’s aid is the national charity for women and children working to end domestic abuse. They have a 24 hour national domestic violence helpline: 0808 2000 247.
GALOP provides advice and support for LGBT people affected by domestic and sexual violence and hate crime in London. Call 0207 704 2040
Broken Rainbow is a helpline for LGBT people experiencing domestic violence: 0808 801 0327.
Men’s Advice Line provides advice and support for men in abusive relationships.
Childline provides counselling services for children and young people concerned about domestic violence or any other issues worrying them: 0800 1111
Action on Elder Abuse is a charity aiming to prevent abuse of older people: 808 808 8141
I live in Scotland, can I get legal aid?
The scope of legal aid in Scotland has not been restricted as in England and Wales.
You may be able to get legal aid for advice and representation on issues including divorce, discrimination, housing issues, immigration and asylum, accidents, debt and criminal cases.
You can find out more about legal aid provisions in Scotland from Citizens Advice Scotland https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/scotland/law-and-rights/legal-system-s/taking-legal-action-s/help-with-legal-costs-s/
HIV Scotland has online information about your rights 44(0)131 558 3713 http://www.hivscotland.com/living-with-hiv/your-rights/
I live in Northern Ireland, can I get legal aid?
The scope of legal aid in Northern Ireland has not been restricted as in England and Wales.
You may be able to get legal aid for advice and representation on issues including divorce, discrimination, immigration and asylum, housing issues, accidents, debt and criminal cases.
You can find out more legal aid provisions in Northern Ireland from Citizens Advice Northern Ireland https://www.citizensadvice.org.uk/nireland/law-and-rights/legal-system/taking-legal-action/help-with-legal-costs-ni/
Positive Life, along with North Belfast Advice Partnership, runs an advice clinic. They provide free confidential and independent advice to people with HIV on benefits, consumer issues, housing, employment and tribunal representation.
If you require advice in these areas contact them on (028) 9024 9268 to make an appointment. http://www.positivelifeni.com/index.php/advice
Can I get criminal legal aid?
Criminal legal aid has not been subject to the same sweeping cuts as civil legal aid in England and Wales, however the Government has announced that there will be significant cuts to the budget.
At the moment access to criminal legal aid is means tested - your income, family circumstances and essential living costs are assessed. You can see if you qualify in England and Wales using the financial elibility calculator. You can find out more at https://www.gov.uk/criminal-legal-aid-means-testing
You can find out about availability of criminal legal aid in Scotland through the Scottish Legal Aid Board http://www.slab.org.uk/public/criminal/eligibility/
Criminal legal aid in Northern Ireland is administered by the Legal Services Agency Northern Ireland http://www.dojni.gov.uk/index/legalservices/legal-services-members-of-the-public.htm
You can find out about availability from Northern Ireland Direct http://www.nidirect.gov.uk/legal-aid