Everyone of us has the right to seek justice in law. When you need legal representation before the court but are unable to afford it because of your means, you may apply for legal aid from the Legal Aid Department (LAD) or legal representation from the Duty Lawyer Service (the Service) in Magistrates, Juvenile and Coroner’s Courts.
When you need legal advice on a problem you face, you can use the free legal advice service provided by the Service. You can also pay for a lawyer to give legal advice or represent you in court.
Here's how to get legal advice and assistance when you need it.
Legal Aid from Legal Aid Department
Legal aid is a means by which eligible applicants can obtain legal representation by a solicitor and, if necessary, a barrister in proceedings before the courts. The service is provided by the LAD to any person in Hong Kong, both residents and non-residents.
Legal aid provided by the LAD is available for proceedings in:
- the District Court
- the Court of First Instance
- the Court of Appeal
- the Court of Final Appeal
- the Magistrates' Courts (committal proceedings only)
- Mental Health Review Tribunal
- Coroner's Court (in the interests of public justice)
If your application for legal aid is successful, the Director of Legal Aid will assign a lawyer, either in-house or in private practice to represent you. If your case is assigned out, the LAD will monitor the continued merits of your case and its progress.
Types of Legal Aid Schemes
There are two Legal Aid Schemes:
Ordinary Legal Aid Scheme:
For civil proceedings: it covers civil cases such as family and matrimonial disputes, personal injuries claims, employment disputes, contractual disputes, immigration matters and professional negligence claims.
For criminal proceedings: it covers committal proceedings (proceedings before a Magistrate for determining whether there is enough evidence against a defendant for a criminal case to be transferred to the High Court for trial or sentence) in the Magistrates' Courts, cases tried in the District Court and the Court of First Instance of the High Court, as well as appeals from the Magistrates' Courts and to the Court of Appeal of the High Court or the Court of Final Appeal.
Supplementary Legal Aid Scheme:
It is available to people whose financial resources are over the limit permitted for Ordinary Legal Aid but below a stated amount. The scheme covers cases involving personal injuries or death, medical, dental or legal professional negligence, where the claim for damages is likely to exceed $60,000 as well as claims under the Employees' Compensation Ordinance irrespective of the amount of the claim.
Who are Eligible
To successfully apply for legal aid, you must pass the means test and merits test.
Means test :
For civil cases, no matter you are applying for Ordinary Legal Aid or Supplementary Legal Aid, your financial resources should not exceed the statutory limit. In some cases, the Director may waive the upper limit where a breach of certain basic human rights is an issue.
For criminal cases, the Director may grant legal aid to an applicant whose financial resources exceed the upper limit if the Director is satisfied that it is desirable in the interests of justice to do so.
For more details about the means test, you can refer to the links below.
Financial resources limits for applying for legal aidhttp://www.lad.gov.hk/eng/las/fe.html
How to calculate financial resources for applicants of legal aidhttp://www.lad.gov.hk/eng/las/fe.html
Merits test :
For civil cases, you need to show you have reasonable grounds for taking or defending proceedings. For criminal cases, legal aid will be granted to you for trial if it is desirable in the interests of justice to do so. For criminal appeal cases, it must be shown that there are valid grounds of appeal.
Legal Aid Contributions
If you pass the means and merits tests and legal aid is offered to you, you may be required to pay a contribution towards the costs and expenses based on your financial resources.
In civil cases, you may also need to pay for the costs and expenses that are not recovered from your opponent out of the money or property you get or keep in the proceedings.
You can check out how much you need to pay for legal aid on the following link:
How to calculate legal aid contributionshttp://www.lad.gov.hk/eng/ppr/publication/frc.html
How to Apply
You can apply in person at the following offices of the LAD:
24/F Queensway Government Offices
66 Queensway, Hong Kong
Kowloon Branch Office
G/F Mongkok Government Offices
30 Luen Wan Street
Mong Kok, Kowloon
Monday – Friday: 8:45 am – 1 pm and 2 – 5:15 pm
Saturday: 9 am – 12 noon
Tel: 2537 7677
Email : email@example.com:firstname.lastname@example.org
You have to fill in the relevant questionnaires and forms which can be collected from the enquiry counter at the office of the LAD. When you have provided all the required information, you will be given an appointment for an interview.
If your case is urgent, you should inform the staff at the enquiry counter and the LAD will accord priority to your application.
You do not have to pay an application fee unless you are applying for legal aid under the Supplementary Legal Aid Scheme.
If you are in custody, you can tell the prison staff that you want to apply for legal aid, and they will help you fill in the application form and forward it to the LAD. In most cases, an officer of the LAD will visit you in prison to discuss the case with you.
If you are not in custody, you can apply for legal aid in person at the following office of the LAD:
25/F, Queensway Government Offices
66 Queensway, Hong Kong
Monday – Thursday: 8:45 am – 1 pm and 2 – 5:45 pm
Friday: 8:30 am – 1 pm and 2 – 6 pm
Tel: 2537 7677
E-mail : email@example.com:firstname.lastname@example.org
Whether you are applying for civil or criminal legal aid, you should bring along all supporting documents for the means test and merits test (e.g. bank books, salary slips, rental receipts, mortgage repayment schedule, salaries tax assessment, proof of Comprehensive Social Security Assistance (CSSA)). You do not have to pay an application fee.
If you are over the age of 18 and it is a non-urgent case, you can submit pre-application information online for civil and criminal cases as a first step towards making an application for legal aid through the Legal Aid Electronic Services Portal (LAESP).
By accessing LAESP, you can download the “Legal Aid Pre-application Information Forms” after answering some key questions. Upon completion of the form, you will need an electronic certificate to forward the form online to LAD. The electronic certificate protects the confidentiality of the information submitted. LAD will acknowledge receipt of the information through LAESP and you will be assigned a transaction reference number.
If LAD considers that the information supplied is sufficient, you will be given an appointment to make a formal application. As LAD will have most of the information required by that time, the processing time will be shortened.
For Civil Cases
You will be informed of the result within 3 months. It may be necessary for the LAD to obtain additional information from third parties such as banks, other government departments or the Hospital Authority in order to determine your means and the merits of your case.
For Criminal Cases
You will be informed of the result within 8 working days of the application for committal proceedings, and 10 working days for cases in the District Court or Court of First Instance. For appeals against sentence, you will normally be notified of the outcome within 2 months, and for appeals against conviction, within 3 months.
Whether you are applying for civil or criminal legal aid, you should refrain from enquiring about your application during the periods mentioned, as this will cause delay. If your application is not determined within the period mentioned, you will be informed of the position.
When You are Offered Legal Aid
You should read all the terms of the offer very carefully, especially the part about the amount of your contribution. For civil cases, if the terms are acceptable, you must sign the “Offer of Legal Aid” form and return it together with your contribution payment, if required, to the LAD within 14 days.
Once you have accepted the offer, a Legal Aid Certificate will be issued to you, which confirms that you have been granted legal aid.
For criminal cases, if you are eligible for legal aid without payment of a contribution, you will simply be sent a Legal Aid Certificate. You will not need to complete the offer form to confirm your acceptance of the offer.
When You are Refused Legal Aid
- For Civil Cases
You may appeal to the Registrar of the High Court against the refusal of your application for legal aid. The decision of the Registrar is final.
- For Criminal Cases
If you are refused legal aid because your case lacks merits, the judge hearing your case/appeal may grant you legal aid provided you are eligible on means.
If your case/appeal involves murder, treason or piracy with violence, the judge hearing your case/appeal may grant you legal aid and exempt you from the means test and the payment of contribution.
Whether you are applying for civil or criminal legal aid, if your application is for legal aid to appeal to the Court of Final Appeal and is refused, you may apply to a Review Committee made up of the Registrar of the High Court and a representative each of the Hong Kong Bar Association and the Law Society of Hong Kong. The decision of the Review Committee is final.
If your application, whether for civil or criminal legal aid, was refused on means and there have been changes to your financial circumstances since the refusal so that your financial resources are now reduced to a level below that of the financial eligibility limit, you may re-apply for legal aid. However, the Director of Legal Aid may refuse legal aid if you have disposed of any capital or income or failed to maximise your earnings so as to reduce your financial resources for the purpose of satisfying the financial limit.
Legal Assistance from other Departments and NGOs
The Free Legal Advice Scheme is provided by The Duty Lawyer Service. It gives preliminary legal advice to people as to their legal position in genuine cases free of charge.
The scheme has nine Legal Advice Centres in Central & Western, Eastern, Islands, Kwun Tong, Shatin, Tsuen Wan, Wanchai, Wong Tai Sin and Yau Tsim Mong district offices of Home Affairs Department. Volunteer qualified lawyers are available from 6:30 pm to 8:30 pm one evening a week, except those in Wan Chai Centre, which opens twice a week. The addresses and telephone numbers and locations of Legal Advice Centres are as below:
List of Duty Lawyer Service - Legal Advice Centreshttp://www.dutylawyer.org.hk/en/free/legal.asp
How to Apply
If you wish to seek free legal advice from the scheme, you need to attend a referral agency to make an appointment to meet the volunteer lawyer at the Legal Advice Centre you selected. You can also check out the referral agencies on the following link:
Referral agencies of Free Legal Advice Schemehttp://www.dutylawyer.org.hk/en/free/referral.htm
You should be able to meet a volunteer lawyer generally within 2 weeks after you make the appointment. Please be noted that the scheme only provides preliminary legal advice as to your legal position. You will not be offered any follow-up service nor legal representation. Clients who have been granted legal aid or engaged a private lawyer are not eligible for the scheme.
Legal Advice and Assistance offered by Legal Professional Bodies
You can also seek legal advice and assistance from the following professional bodies:
The Law Society of Hong Kong
The Law Society of Hong Kong does not provide legal advice service to members of the public. If you wish to hire a solicitor, you may consult the Law List and the Directory of Law Firms on its website. On the website, you can search solicitors or law firms in Hong Kong according to the areas of practice.
There is also a Free Legal Consultation section on the website of ChooseHKLawyer, managed by the Law Society of Hong Kong. This website lists the solicitors' firms who have volunteered to provide not more than 45 minutes of free legal consultation in one or more areas of practice. For more information, you can refer to the following links:
The Law Society of Hong Konghttp://www.hklawsoc.org.hk/pub_e/default.asp
The Hong Kong Bar Association
You should go to a solicitor first for advice on whether you need a barrister. A barrister is an expert in advocacy and specialised in litigation. You can also instruct a barrister to give you legal advice, or to draft documents related to litigation.
The Bar Free Legal Service Scheme launched by The Hong Kong Bar Association provides free legal advice and representation in cases where legal aid is not available and the applicant is unable to afford the proceedings. For details, you can click on the following link:
Hong Kong Bar Associationhttp://www.hkba.org/
Last review date: December 2010