In France, legal support is called legal aid (aide juridictionnelle).
1 What costs are involved in legal proceedings and who normally has to bear them?
The costs incurred in proceedings vary depending on the nature and complexity of the case, the procedure and the court with jurisdiction to decide on the case.
Costs fall into three categories:
• lawyer’s fees, which are not subject to a fixed scale and can therefore be agreed between lawyers and clients; in principle these are payable by clients unless they are eligible for legal aid;
• expenses, listed specifically in Article 695 of the Code of Civil Procedure (Code de procédure civile) and comprising mainly:
a. representation emoluments payable to lawyers or certain public officials (officiers publics or officiers ministériels); emoluments are separate from fees;
b. court costs payable to bailiffs;
c. costs of experts’ reports and investigation;
d. any witness allowances, based on a scale;
e. counsel’s hearing fee;
f. disbursements: costs relating to the fixed-rate expenses advanced by professionals for the requirements of the proceedings.
Costs are payable by the losing party. That principle is laid down in Article 696 of the Code of Civil Procedure. However, judges may give a reasoned decision ordering another party to pay all or part; in the latter case they divide the costs.
• other costs incurred in court by the parties to the proceedings are in principle payable by those parties unless the judge decides otherwise. The judge may exercise that power in both criminal and civil cases, with due regard to equity or the economic situation of the convicted party. Judges may even rule of their own motion that such an order is not necessary.
In criminal cases, the state pays the court fees. The convicted person is required to pay a fixed fee for the proceedings, the amount of which depends on the offence.
2 What exactly is legal aid?
Legal aid is part of the legal support system (which has replaced the legal assistance system organised under the law of 1972) provided for by Law No 91-647 of 10 July 1991 on legal support and on legal aid and aid for assistance by a lawyer in non-court proceedings (loi no 91-647 du 10 juillet 1991 relative à l’aide juridique et relatif à l’aide juridictionnelle et à l’aide à l’intervention de l’avocat dans les procédures non juridictionnelles).
Legal support covers:
- legal aid: full or partial financial aid granted by the state for proceedings in trial or appeal courts, enforcement of decisions and settlements before the commencement of proceedings or divorces by mutual consent settled out of court;
- aid for assistance by a lawyer in non-court criminal proceedings, which might be alternatives to prosecution (settlement, mediation, etc.) or when in police custody or assistance for detainees before a prison disciplinary board;
- aid for access to law (information, guidance and free legal consultation).
Legal aid and aid for assistance by a lawyer in non-court proceedings are for persons who wish to assert their legal rights and have only a low level of resources. It consists of full or partial payment by the State of the fees incurred and also covers legal costs (lawyer, bailiff, notary, etc.). It is granted to an individual who so requests where the action brought is not inadmissible, unfounded or abusive on account, in particular, of the number of claims or their systematic nature.
Legal aid may be total, partial or zero. It does not cover any costs covered by a legal expenses insurance policy or other protection scheme. Where appropriate, any portion of the costs thus covered will be deducted from the amounts advanced by the State in respect of legal aid.
Legal aid enables the recipient to receive free assistance from a lawyer or other legal official (e.g. bailiff, solicitor, auctioneer, etc.) and to be exempted from all or part of the court costs. It is subject to eligibility criteria laid down by the aforementioned Law of 10 July 1991 and by Decree 2020-1717 of 28 December 2020 implementing Law No 91-647 of 10 July 1991 on legal support and on legal aid and aid for assistance by a lawyer in non-court proceedings (loi no 91-647 du 10 juillet 1991 relative à l’aide juridique et relatif à l’aide juridictionnelle et à l’aide à l’intervention de l’avocat dans les procédures non juridictionnelles).
3 Do I have a right to legal aid?
Legal aid is granted by the legal aid office (bureau de l’aide juridictionnelle) set up at Combined (Regional and District) Courts (Tribunal judiciaire), subject to several financial, nationality, residence and admissibility criteria.
This aid may also be granted subject to derogation conditions in certain situations (see below).
You are eligible for legal aid if your reference tax income (revenu fiscal de référence) or your taxpaying ability and assets are below the thresholds set by decree.
New provisions entered into force on 1 January 2021 amending the eligibility criteria which allow access to legal aid. Eligibility for aid is now based on the following.
- Reference taxable income (revenu fiscal de référence). The reference taxable income corresponds to an amount of annual income calculated by the tax authorities and appearing on the tax assessment notice. The eligibility thresholds are set by Article 3 of Decree 2020-1717 of 28 December 2020 on legal aid (décret 2020-1717 du 28 décembre 2020 relatif à l’aide juridictionnelle). For example, legal aid applications lodged in 2021 are considered in the light of the amount of the reference taxable income shown in the most recent tax assessment notice. From 1 January 2021, the amount of the reference taxable income, for a single person, must not exceed EUR 11 262 for full legal aid and EUR 16 890 for partial legal aid. The reference tax income taken into account for the consideration of the legal aid application is that of your tax household. If there are multiple people in your tax household, the ceilings not to be exceeded take into account the income of all these persons. However, if legal aid is requested for proceedings linked to a dispute between the applicant and a member of their tax household, the income ceilings will be examined individually; in such cases, it is the taxpaying ability that is taken into account when examining eligibility for the aid.
- Movable assets (primarily savings): if their value is higher than the ceiling for full legal aid (i.e. EUR 11 262 in 2020 for a single person), the applicant is not eligible for legal aid.
- Immovable assets (excluding main residence and business premises): if their value is more than twice the ceiling for partial legal aid (i.e. EUR 33 780 in 2020 for a single person), the applicant is not eligible.
If the tax household is made up of multiple people, the ceilings not to be exceeded take into account the movable and immovable assets of all those persons. However, if legal aid is requested for proceedings linked to a dispute between the applicant and a member of their tax household, the assets ceilings will be examined individually.
- The composition of the tax household: If the tax household is made up of multiple people, the income and asset ceilings will be increased by:
- 0.18 times for each of the first two additional people,
- 0.1137 times for subsequent people.
However, legal aid is granted without consideration of the income criteria to the victims of the most serious crimes (victims of attacks with intent to endanger life or cause bodily harm) and their beneficiaries.
- Nationality criterion:
Legal aid may be granted to French nationals or nationals of one of the EU Member States (with the exception of Denmark) or to foreign nationals habitually and legally resident in France. It may also be granted for a case in a French court to foreigners not resident in France but who are nationals of a state having an international or bilateral agreement with France making its nationals eligible for legal aid.
Apart from the cases mentioned above, habitual and legal residence in France is the general rule.
However, foreigners are granted legal aid without a residence condition when they are minors, assisted witnesses, persons under investigation, charged, accused or convicted or parties claiming damages in criminal proceedings, when they are the subject of a protection order pursuant to Article 515-9 of the Civil Code, when they are the subject of plea bargaining or when they are the subject of proceedings concerning the conditions laid down in the Code for the entry and residence of foreigners in France and the right to asylum in France.
- Admissibility criterion:
Legal aid is granted to persons whose actions do not appear manifestly inadmissible or unfounded. This condition is not applicable to defendants in the action, persons with civil liability, assisted witnesses or persons charged, accused or convicted.
Claimants are refused legal aid for appeals if no reasonable ground of appeal can be established.
When legal aid has been refused on that basis, but the judge allows the action brought by the claimant, the claimant is granted a refund of the costs, expenses and fees incurred or paid, up to the amount of the legal aid to which they would have been entitled in view of their assets.
Legal aid is granted without any examination of the eligibility criteria if the applicant has already received legal aid for their case and their opponent has appealed against the decision handed down in their favour, or if they bring an action before the National Right of Asylum Court (Cour nationale du droit d’asile).
Similarly, persons who do not meet the eligibility criteria may exceptionally be granted legal aid if their action appears particularly worthy of interest on account of the subject matter of the dispute or the foreseeable cost of the proceedings (Article 6 of the Law of 10 July 1991 on legal aid).
4 Is legal aid granted for all types of proceedings?
Legal aid is granted to claimants and defendants in non-contentious or contentious proceedings in any court and for the hearing of minors.
It may be granted for all or part of the proceedings and for the purpose of reaching a settlement before the commencement of proceedings.
Legal aid may also be granted to secure enforcement of a court decision or any other writ of execution, including those from other EU Member States, with the exception of Denmark.
5 Are there special procedures in cases of need?
Legal aid may be granted provisionally when the proceedings jeopardise the essential living conditions of the person concerned, particularly in the case of enforcement involving seizure of property or eviction. In such cases it may be granted by the head of the legal aid office or by the competent court or its president. In criminal cases, the procedure allows for legal aid to be granted in urgent circumstances (for instance intervention during an examination at first appearance or an immediate trial).
Legal aid is provisionally granted during the proceedings and covers all acts by the court.
6 Where can I obtain a legal aid application form?
The legal aid application form can be downloaded and printed by copying the following link to your browser:
Legal aid may be requested before the petition is lodged or in the course of proceedings.
You can also apply for legal aid after the end of proceedings, for example to enforce the court decision.
You can obtain a legal aid application form from the court for your place of residence or at the place where the case will be heard, as well as from the ‘Justice Point’ (Houses of Justice and Law (Maisons de la Justice et du Droit), Access to Law Point (Point d’Accès au Droit) or Access to Law Relay (Relais d’Accès au Droit)) closest to you. To locate it, see the following webpage: http://www.annuaires.justice.gouv.fr/lieux-dacces-aux-droits-10111/.
If you are a French national living abroad, the form is also obtainable from consulates or at the:
Département de l'entraide, du droit international privé et européen, Ministère de la Justice,
Direction des affaires civiles et du sceau,
13 place Vendôme, 75042 Paris Cedex 01.
If you are a foreigner not resident in France, you can obtain the legal aid form from the central authority designated by your country to transmit international legal aid applications. Most countries have designated their Ministry of Justice. France has designated the above department at the Ministry of Justice, the Bureau du droit de l’Union, du droit international privé et de l’entraide civile, to process applications in civil, commercial or administrative cases by residents of Member States of the Council of Europe which are party to the European Agreement of 27 January 1977 on the Transmission of Applications for Legal Aid with responsibility for receiving and transmitting applications.
If you are a national of an EU Member State, with the exception of Denmark, and you are resident in France or your case is being heard in a French court, you might be eligible for cross-border legal aid in civil and commercial cases in accordance with Council Directive 2003/8/EC of 27 January 2003. The office responsible for processing those applications in France is the:
Bureau de l’aide juridictionnelle
Service de l’accès au droit et à la justice et de l’aide aux victimes (SADJAV)
Ministère de la Justice
13 place Vendôme, 75042 Paris Cedex 01.
N.B.: It will soon be possible to apply for legal aid via the Legal Aid Information System (Système d’information de l’aide juridictionnelle) support service, which is currently being trialled in some courts.
The Legal Aid Information System will enable individuals to apply for legal aid via the internet, and will enable the Legal Aid Office to receive said application, thus simplifying the procedures for individuals and shortening the time taken to process applications.
7 Which documents need to be submitted with the legal aid application form?
The legal aid application form must be completed and accompanied by supporting documents (tax assessment notice, evidence of family circumstances or nationality, etc.), pursuant to the Decree of 30 December 2020 on the content of the legal aid application form and the list of documents to be included (arrêté du 30 décembre 2020 relatif au contenu du formulaire de demande d’aide juridictionnelle et à la liste des pièces à y joindre). The supporting documents relate particularly to financial resources (your own and those of the persons habitually living with you), the subject of your application and the court dealing with the case.
8 Where do I submit my application for legal aid?
You can submit or send your application to the legal aid office for your place of residence or the office for the district in which the court hearing the case is located.
There is a single legal aid office in every Combined Court (Tribunal judiciaire) (formerly the Regional Court (Tribunal de grande instance), which processes legal aid applications for cases to be heard in that court or in those within its district: Combined Court (Tribunal judiciaire), Administrative Court (Tribunal administratif), Employment Tribunal (Conseil de prud’hommes), Court of Appeal (Cour d’appel) and Administrative Court of Appeal (Cour administrative d’appel).
As an exception to the single office rule, each of the following courts also has an office:
• the Court of Cassation (Cour de cassation), the highest ordinary court;
• the Council of State (Conseil d’état), the highest administrative court;
• the National Right of Asylum Court (Cour nationale du droit d’asile).
9 How do I find out whether I am entitled to legal aid?
You will be notified of the decision by the legal aid office at your place of residence.
There is an online simulator that can be used to estimate what entitlements to legal aid you may have:
This simulation gives you an insight into your possible entitlements to legal aid. However, this simulation does not replace a proper investigation of your application, therefore it does not prejudge the decision that will be taken by the Legal Aid Office.
10 What should I do, if I am entitled to legal aid?
You should contact your lawyer (or legal official, e.g. bailiff, expert, solicitor, etc.) or the person designated for you in order to explain your case and give them all the information and documents required for their work.
If you have been awarded partial legal aid, you must agree with them the additional fee you will pay them. That amount must be shown in the agreement you must sign.
11 Who chooses my lawyer, if I am entitled to legal aid?
All individuals may appoint a lawyer of their choice.
If you are appointing your own lawyer, you must then give their name on the legal aid application.
However, if you do not know of a lawyer, one will be appointed for you by either the chair of the bar at the Combined Court (Tribunal judiciaire) (formerly the Regional Court (Tribunal de grande instance)) or the president of the court hearing the action.
12 Does legal aid cover all the costs of the proceedings?
Full legal aid does cover all court costs, including the direct payment to the lawyer or other legal officials (bailiffs, experts, solicitors, etc.). That payment is calculated according to a scale or rate depending on the type of proceedings.
13 Who bears the other costs, if I am entitled only to limited legal aid?
Depending on your assets, you can be granted partial legal aid at two rates, 55% and 25%, payable by the state. You are still liable for an additional non-fixed fee, determined by agreement between you and the lawyer, under the supervision of the chair of the bar to whom you may refer any dispute.
As with full legal aid, eligibility for partial legal aid exempts the recipient from all other necessary court costs.
14 Does legal aid also cover appeals?
- If you are the party filing the appeal, you must lodge a further application, which will be assessed taking into account the legally established eligibility criteria.
- In contrast, if it is your opponent who files an appeal, any entitlement to legal aid you have been granted will remain in effect. You must nevertheless expressly complete a further application to the legal aid office of the Combined Court (Tribunal judiciaire) in either your place of residence or in the district in which the Court of Appeal is sitting.
- If you have already been granted legal aid for previous proceedings and you wish to apply for a review, the previous decisions on eligibility no longer apply. You must lodge an application with the legal aid office at the Court of Cassation, which will consider the admissibility of the proposed action as well as the amount of your assets. In appeals, claimants are refused legal aid if no reasonable ground of appeal can be established.
15 Can legal aid be withdrawn before the proceedings are concluded (or even revoked after the proceedings have terminated)?
The right to legal aid may be withdrawn completely or in part (Article 50 of the Law of 1991 and Articles 65 to 68 of Decree 2020-1717 of 28 December 2020 on legal aid) during or after the proceedings, in accordance with the following conditions:
- if the aid was obtained on the basis of false declarations or incorrect documents;
- in the context of proceedings which are an abuse of process or have been found to be dilatory and manifestly inadmissible;
- if, in the course of the proceedings, the value of the recipient’s movable or immovable property increases significantly;
- when the final decision procured assets for you exceeding the ceilings for legal aid eligibility;
- when the external elements of the lifestyle of the recipient of legal aid or aid for assistance by a lawyer appear to be manifestly incompatible with the amount of annual resources taken into account in order to assess their eligibility.
Decisions withdrawing legal aid entail an obligation for the recipient to repay the amount of the contribution paid by the State.
16 Can I contest a refusal to give legal aid?
If you are refused legal aid, you may appeal against the decision.
You can appeal yourself or with a lawyer.
An appeal may be brought against a decision to refuse legal aid outright or against a decision to grant partial aid, if you have applied for full aid.
The appeal must be lodged within 15 days of notification of the decision.
You must indicate in the appeal the reasons why you contest the decision taken. Example: an error in the number of people in your household or the amount of your resources.
The appeal must be sent to the Legal Aid Office which issued the decision by registered mail with acknowledgement of receipt.
You must include a copy of the contested decision.
The department which issued the decision will forward your application to the authority competent for examining the appeal. The authority competent for examining the appeal depends on the court which is responsible for examining the case in relation to which you have applied for legal aid.
Authority competent for examining the appeal depending on the court
Authority responsible for examining the appeal
1st President of the Court of Appeal to which the court dealing with the case belongs or of the court of appeal dealing with the case
National Right of Asylum Court (Cour nationale du droit d’asile - CNDA).
President of the National Right of Asylum Court
President of the Administrative Court of Appeal to which the Court belongs
Administrative Court of Appeal
President of the Administrative Court of Appeal dealing with the case
Council of State
President of the Legal Section of the Council of State
Court of Cassation
1st President of the Court of Cassation
Court of Conflicts of Jurisdiction
President of the Court of Conflicts of Jurisdiction
Once the appeal has been examined, you will be notified of the decision by mail.
If you do not agree with this new decision, you will not be able to contest it, this second decision is final.
- An appeal lodged by a lawyer with the President of the Administrative Court of Appeal of the President of the Legal Section of the Council of State must be sent using the Télérecours remote appeals service.
- Legal aid may be granted retrospectively if a party has brought an action and won the case when aid was refused on the ground that the action did not have a reasonable chance of succeeding.
The national language version of this page is maintained by the respective EJN contact point. The translations have been done by the European Commission service. Possible changes introduced in the original by the competent national authority may not be yet reflected in the translations. Neither the EJN nor the European Commission accept responsibility or liability whatsoever with regard to any information or data contained or referred to in this document. Please refer to the legal notice to see copyright rules for the Member State responsible for this page.