Court action can be expensive and you may have to pay fees. If you win your case the judge may order the other side to pay some or all of your costs. If you lose your case, you could end up having to pay for the other person's legal costs as well as your own fees and any damages the judge awards. You might be able to get financial help with the costs of legal action through Legal Aid.
You'll have to pay fees as part of your legal action. Court fees are fixed and the amount you'll pay depends on the type of case you are taking and the amount of money you are claiming for. You might also have to pay for reports or evidence that you need to prove or defend your case. Your solicitor will also charge you professional fees for the work he or she does on your case and to hire a barrister if you need one.
Legal aid can help you pay for your legal action. It can help people with civil and criminal cases. If you receive money or property as part of a legal judgment you might have to pay some of your solicitor's bill if you got help paying for the case through Legal Aid. This is known as the statutory charge.
There are 3 types of legal aid; legal advice and assistance, civil legal aid and criminal legal aid. You can also get a free or low cost first interview with any solicitor who provides a fixed free interview. The fixed fee interview isn't means tested so you won't be asked to pay more because you're working or have savings.
If you're applying for legal aid, it's really important that you give your solicitor correct information. Your legal aid could be withdrawn if you give wrong information about your case or your financial situation. Keep your solicitor up to date with any changes in your circumstances. You can find out more about the legal aid scheme from the Legal Services Agency part of the Department of Finance and Personnel website.
Legal advice and assistance
This legal aid pays for you to get up to two hours of general help from a solicitor. This could include general advice, writing legal letters or negotiating or preparing a written case for a tribunal. This level of legal aid can help with problems like divorce, maintenance or drawing up a will. It won't cover the costs of a solicitor representing you at a tribunal.
This can help with the costs of having a solicitor represent you at Magistrates Court, where cases about separation, maintenance, paternity, non-molestation orders and children's orders are heard.
You'll only qualify for this legal aid if your savings and income are within the financial limits set for the scheme. Your solicitor can help you figure this out.
Civil legal aid
This covers the work leading up to court proceedings and can cover representation by a solicitor or a barrister. You may be entitled to this even if you were turned down for legal advice and assistance. Civil legal aid is available for cases in Supreme Court, Court of Appeal, High Court, County Court, Lands Tribunal and Enforcement of Judgements Office. You can't get civil legal aid for repossession cases, tribunals or cases about slander or libel.
Your solicitor will apply for civil legal aid for you. Your finances will have to be below the current thresholds and you'll have to be able to show that your case is reasonable.
Criminal legal aid
Criminal legal aid covers representation by a solicitor, a barrister, or both, in Magistrate's Court and Crown Court. You can only get this if you've been charged with a criminal offence. If you've received a summons to go to Magistrate's Court you need to contact a solicitor for help.
Applying for legal aid
Your solicitor will help you apply for legal aid. You'll need to bring information about your income and savings to your meeting with your solicitor. The Law Society of NI provides a list of solicitors.