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Applying for Legal Aid

If you cannot afford to pay for an attorney you can apply for legal aid (financial help for attorney’s fees) by applying to Legal Aid South Africa. Legal Aid represents in most criminal cases if the accused cannot afford a lawyer. Legal Aid can also represent in civil cases, however, the types of civil cases they represent in are very limited. You will have to pass a means (income) test to get Legal Aid which means you have to show that you earn less than an amount fixed by Legal Aid South Africa. If you qualify for Legal Aid, a Legal Aid attorney will be appointed for you and then Legal Aid South Africa will pay most of your attorney’s fees.

You cannot get legal aid for the following kinds of problems.

  • Traffic offences, such as driving, speeding or parking offences and drunken driving
  • Criminal cases if you are going to plead ‘guilty’
  • Defamation, or insults to your character
  • Where you are suing for money (damages) for relationship-related claims such as defamation, breach of promise to marry, infringement of dignity or privacy, seduction, adultery
  • Cases to prove a person is the father of another person’s child
  • Child maintenance cases which can be decided by a maintenance office You can get legal aid for divorce cases, but not if:
  • There is a reasonable possibility that you might get together with your spouse again
  • There are no children involved in the divorce
  • You do not meet the means test

You can get legal aid for a labour matter:

  • If you are claiming unfair dismissal (you have been unfairly dismissed) as long as your claim is made within the time limits set by the labour relations act
  • To demand a merit report (but legal aid will be refused if there are good reasons to believe you are not taking up a job on purpose or that you resigned from a job in order to be granted legal aid)

You can also get legal aid for appeals on all these types of cases listed, whether criminal or civil (cases where you are suing or being sued). For appeals, the Director must also believe that you have a reasonable chance of success.

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