If you believe you cannot afford a lawyer, this should, generally speaking, not keep you from appointing one. For clients who do not hold financial assets to have their rights defended in an adequate manner, the law provides so-called legal aid. If you are uncertain whether you might be entitled to legal aid, please do not hesitate to get in touch with me for a closer look onto your individual case. This will not incur any extra costs.
The concept of legal aid both comprises out-of-court constellations, known as a funding certificate (in German: Beratungshilfeschein), and in-court support, the original legal aid (in German: Prozesskostenhilfe).
When speaking of funding certificates, German law refers to legal support required out of court. One typical example would be a client who is in need of support regarding a defect of his rented flat, including the question of who is responsible for fixing it. As the German State issues the funding certificate, it will pay for the majority of your out-of-court consultation costs. Consequently, the consultation date at the lawyer of your choice may cost you a maximum of 10 euros. In contrast, legal advice on the basis of a funding certificate is free in my practice.
In order for you to obtain a funding certificate, you have to contact the district court (in German: Amtsgericht) competent for your place of residence in Germany. Virtually all district courts provide a place called Rechtsantragstelle where you can apply for a funding certificate with a court assistant straightaway. You can download the application form here. Together with the form, you have to provide additional documents giving proof of your low income status and your monthly costs (e.g. payslips, proof or rent payable per month, any insurance taken out, child maintenance obligations) as well as your assets (e.g. credit balance, savong accounts, life insurances). You may apply for a funding certificate as a foreign citizen, however, it is crucial for you to have your domicile in Germany.
If you need support while preparing your application, I will be happy to help. If your application is approved, you will receive the funding certificate from the district court. You will then have to hand it out to the lawyer of your choice so that she can make the German State pay for her fees.
Please note that in criminal defence there can be no access to criminal records through a funding certificate. This, however, is paramount if an indictment or a penalty order has has been issued. Without knowing the charge in detail, successful defence is hardly feasible. I will be happy to provide further information on funding certificates in your individual case.
Traditional legal aid describes the financial support of a client involved in any kind of court action. You will mainly seek a lawyer's advice if you have been taken to court unfairly and would like to defend the claim. However, it is also possible to start a legal action if you want to enforce a claim against a third party, for instance if someone owes you payment for something you have sold them. Should the fact that you cannot afford a lawyer keep you from claiming your money? Clearly not.
Depending on the applicant's income, the court may grant legal aid in full or based on installments. The latter means that you are permitted to pay the legal fees incurred in small amounts, whereas full legal aid does not require you to pay anything. It is, however, possible for the court to reclaim legal aid if the applicant's income situation improves considerably within four years after the court action.
Legal aid pays for the fees you would have to pay for your lawyer and court itself. This will not change for the worse if you eventually lose your action. However, please be advised that in case of losing you will have to pay for the opponent party's legal costs even if legal aid has been granted. This trap is often ignored by many applicants for legal aid and does make the decision to go to court not an easy one. All the more it is crucial to get professional legal advice beforehand.
The most important aspect for legal aid to be granted is that you have a case to present with sufficient prospects of success. In other words, your case must not be without cause. This means that the German state will perform a first check of whether the court is addressed with sufficient justification. For instance, if there is a client that has been taken to court over demand for payment of a thing he did not order, defending the claim will most likely be successful and legal aid will be granted by the court accordingly. This includes being represented by the lawyer of your choice.
However, please take into account that legal aid needs to be applied for. The form called "Erklärung zu den persönlichen und wirtschaftlichen Verhältnissen" (declaration on personal and economical circumstances) can be found in the Downloads and Forms section. As with a Funding Certificate, an application for legal aid has to be supported by appropriate documentation (tenancy agreement, payslips, benefits decision, etc.). If you struggle with completing the application, I will be happy to help. As the forms are not available in English, I will provide you with any translation required and advise you on further documentation necessary.
Please note that there is no legal aid for criminal defence, meaning you will have to account for these costs yourself. There are cases of severe crimes, however, when criminal defence is prescribed by law, called obligatory criminal defence (notwendige Verteidigung) under German law. I will happily provide support as to legal aid in your individual criminal defence case.