To ensure equal access to justice, the Legal Aid Department in Hong Kong provides legal representatives (solicitors, and barristers if needed) to eligible persons who face proceedings and lack resources to afford legal services. Legal aid is available for both civil and criminal proceedings
For legal aid applications for both civil and criminal proceedings, applicants must pass both the means and merits test. The means test is an assessment of the applicant’s financial resources, to be computed by their annual disposable income and disposable capital. The financial limit for eligibility will be deducted from the applicant’s capital if he/she is 60 or above. Generally, the limit is $420,400 (except for the Supplementary Legal Aid Scheme) and if the case involves a breach of the Hong Kong Bills of Rights Ordinance or the International Covenant on Civil and Political Right, the limit may be waived. The merits test is an assessment to ensure that the applicant has a reasonable, justified and enforceable claim or defence which has a reasonable chance of success. The applicant must submit all relevant information when applying, the Director will then consider those with other information such as previous court proceeding transcripts to make such determination.
1. Ordinary Legal Aid Scheme
For civil proceedings in the District Courts, Court of First Instance, Court of Appeal, Court of Final Appeal, Mental Health Review Tribunal and certain coroner’s inquests, the Ordinary Legal Aid Scheme offers eligible persons to receive services from a legal representative in the panel. They help handle cases like traffic accidents, employees’ compensations, negligence and matrimonial cases. As mentioned above, applicants are eligible once they satisfy the means test of $420,400 and the merits test.
Either in person at the Legal Aid Department offices or through the Legal Aid Electronic Services Portal (LAESP), applicants can submit relevant case information. For those visiting the offices, they can obtain a form and case questionnaire and submit by post or in person. For those using LAESP, they must be over 18 years old and have a non-urgent case. An official application appointment will be arranged after answering some basic questions on the portal. Applicants’ means and merits tests will be reviewed during the official appointment for application. There will be no application fee payable.
2. Supplementary Legal Aid Scheme
Mostly similar to the Ordinary Legal Aid Scheme, the Supplementary Legal Aid Scheme aims to help the “sandwich class” who are not financially well-off, but their financial resources have exceeded the statutory limit. The means test requires them to have financial resources more than $420,400 but no more than $2,102,000. Application procedures are the same as above.
The main difference is that under the Supplementary Legal Aid Scheme, legal aid is only civil claims which are likely going to exceed $75,000. Depending on the type of case, applicants will have to pay different amounts of application fee and interim contribution.
Legal Aid in Criminal Cases
Legal aid is available for all criminal proceedings except for those in the Magistrates Court (other than committal proceedings). Both the means and merits tests have to be satisfied.
For applicants not in custody, they should go to the Legal Aid Department headquarters to submit relevant case documents in person. Alternatively, they can use LAESP to complete pre-application and wait for an assigned formal appointment. For application for those already detained in custody, applications can be made through the Correctional Services Department by informing the staff of this wish, the staff will then complete the application form for the applicant.
After completing the above steps and if the application is successful, applicants can nominate a lawyer on the Legal Aid Panel as their representative or allow the Director to select on their behalf. However, if the application has been unfortunately rejected, what can applicants do? Different appeal and review mechanisms are available for both civil and criminal cases.
For civil claims, rejected applicants can submit an appeal to the Registrar of the High Court or the Committee of Review (for Court of Final Appeal cases). After assessing and reviewing the applicants’ case, the rejection may be reversed. However, it must be noted that the appealed decision is final and cannot be further appealed.
For criminal claims, rejected applicants with charges of murder, treason or piracy with violence can apply for a grant of legal aid from the judge, as well as exemption from the means test. For other cases, judges may self-initiate a grant of legal aid where they find appropriate. A precondition for this is that the applicant must have passed the means test. If all fails, rejected applicants can turn to the Free Legal Service Scheme offered by the Hong Kong Bar Association for help in their legal proceedings.
Please call or whatsapp: 6977 6708 (Mr. LAM) if you have any further enquiries.