Defendants (criminal proceedings)


Getting independent legal advice is very important when you are involved in some way with the criminal process. The factsheets tell you when and in what circumstances you are entitled to be represented by a lawyer. They also tell you what a lawyer will do for you. This general factsheet tells you how to find a lawyer and how the costs of the lawyer will be met if you cannot afford to pay.

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Finding a lawyer

A defendant has the right to choose a lawyer, or to ask the court to appoint one. The Portuguese system of access to justice and to the courts is designed to ensure that all citizens are entitled to defence.

Paying for a lawyer

The social security services are responsible for the procedure to grant legal aid.

Legal aid takes the following forms, all of which may be applied for:

  • Exemption from payment of court fees and other charges;
  • Appointment of a lawyer or defence counsel, and payment of his fee;
  • Deferred payment of court fees and other charges;
  • Deferred payment of the officially-appointed counsel’s fee.

The defendant’s financial capacity is evaluated in accordance with criteria set out in the law, and in particular the income of the defendant’s household.

If the application for legal aid is rejected, the defendant can appeal to the court.

So long as the application for legal aid is pending, the defendant is entitled to legal aid in the form of exemption from or deferred payment of court fees.

Related links

Ministry of Justice FAQs (in Portuguese)

Citizens’ portal (in Portuguese)

Portuguese Justice Portal (in Portuguese)

Last update: 07/04/2024

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