1 What costs are involved in legal proceedings and who normally has to bear them?
Article 151 of the Civil Procedure Act (Zakon o parničnom postupku) states that litigation costs include expenses incurred in the course of or in relation to the proceedings. These costs include, for example, expenses for the introduction of evidence, court fees, publication expenses, expenses for daily allowances and travelling expenses of judges and court recorders, travelling expenses of the parties in connection with their appearance in court and the like. Litigation costs also include remuneration for the work of lawyers and other persons who have the right to remuneration according to the law.
Pursuant to Article 152 of the Civil Procedure Act each party is to meet, in advance, the costs he or she incurs as a result of his or her actions. When a party proposes evidence, he or she is obliged, by order of the court, to pay, in advance, the amount needed to cover the costs to be incurred in relation to the introduction of evidence. Success in litigation is the basic principle when deciding on who is to finally bear the litigation costs. Thus, the first paragraph of Article 154 of the Civil Procedure Act states that a party who loses a case completely is obliged to pay the costs of the opposing party and his or her intervener incurred by the proceedings. The intervener supporting the losing party is to bear the costs incurred by his or her actions. Pursuant to the second paragraph of Article 154 of the Civil Procedure Act, if a party is partially successful in his or her litigation, the court is to decide on the reimbursement of costs on the basis of the degree of success in the litigation in relation to the claim that was finally filed. Special rules apply in cases where litigation costs are incurred by the fault of one of the parties or by an event that happened to him or her, when a judgement is given on the basis of a confession, when the plaintiff withdraws the lawsuit or waives the claim, when the litigation is settled by the court and co-litigants participate in litigation (Articles 156-161 of the Civil Procedure Act).
2 What exactly is legal aid?
Under the Free Legal Aid Act (Zakon o besplatnoj pravnoj pomoći), the purpose of legal aid is to achieve equality before the law, to provide citizens of the Republic of Croatia and other persons with effective legal protection and access to court and other public bodies under equal conditions in accordance with the provisions of the Free Legal Aid Act.
Legal aid is provided as primary or secondary legal aid.
Primary legal aid includes:
- general legal information
- legal advice
- making written submissions to bodies governed by public law, the European Court of Human Rights and international organisations in accordance with international treaties and the rules of operation of these bodies
- representation in proceedings before bodies governed by public law
- legal assistance in amicable out-of-court dispute settlement.
Primary legal aid is provided by state administration offices in counties and the competent administrative body of the City of Zagreb (hereinafter: offices), authorised associations and law clinics. In the provision of primary legal aid offices are authorised to provide general legal information and legal advice and to make submissions.
Secondary legal aid includes:
- legal advice
- making written submissions in proceedings concerning the protection of workers’ rights before the employer
- making written submissions in court proceedings
- representation in court proceedings
- legal assistance in amicable settlement of a dispute.
Secondary legal aid is provided by lawyers.
Secondary legal aid also includes:
- exemption from payment of litigation costs
- exemption from payment of court fees.
3 Do I have a right to legal aid?
The following persons are entitled to free legal aid:
- Croatian citizens
- children who do not have Croatian citizenship and are found in the Republic of Croatia unaccompanied by an adult responsible under the law
- foreigners with a temporary residence permit under the condition of reciprocity or foreigners with a permanent residence permit
- foreigners under temporary protection
- foreigners residing illegally and foreigners with a short-term residence permit in proceedings for issuing a decision on expulsion or a decision on return
- asylum seekers, foreigners under subsidiary protection and members of their families legally residing in the Republic of Croatia, in proceedings in which legal aid is not provided by a specific law.
As a rule, the following property conditions must be met in order to be granted secondary legal aid:
a) the total income of the applicant and the members of his/her household per month must not exceed the amount of the budgetary base (HRK 3,326.00) per household member, and
b) the total value of property owned by the applicant and the members of his/her household must not exceed the amount of 60 budgetary bases (HRK 199,560.00).
Secondary legal aid will be granted without determining the financial situation if the applicant is:
a) a child in the process of exercising the right to maintenance
b) a victim of a violent crime in proceedings for the purpose of exercising the right to compensation for damage caused by the criminal offence
c) a person entitled to a support allowance in accordance with specific regulations governing the exercise of rights under the social welfare system, or
d) a person entitled to benefits under the Act on the Rights of Croatian Homeland War Veterans and their Family Members (Zakon o pravima hrvatskih branitelja iz Domovinskog rata i članova njihovih obitelji) and the Act on the Protection of Military and Civilian Invalids of War (Zakon o zaštiti vojnih i civilnih invalida rata).
Legal aid can also be granted for cross-border disputes. A cross-border dispute is a dispute in which the applicant for legal aid has his or her permanent address or usually resides in a Member State of the European Union, which is not the Member State in which the court is acting or in which the judgement is to be enforced.
Legal aid in cross-border disputes is granted in civil and commercial matters and in proceedings of mediation or out-of-court settlement, enforcement of authentic instruments and the provision of legal advice in such proceedings. The provisions on legal aid in cross-border disputes do not apply in tax, customs and other administrative procedures.
An applicant for legal aid in a cross-border dispute will be granted legal aid if he or she meets the preconditions established by the Free Legal Aid Act. Exceptionally, legal aid may be granted to an applicant who does not meet the conditions for granting legal aid laid down by the Free Legal Aid Act if they prove that they are unable to pay the costs of the proceedings due to the difference in the cost of living between the Member State of residence and the Republic of Croatia.
4 Is legal aid granted for all types of proceedings?
Primary legal aid can be provided in any legal matter:
- if the applicant does not have sufficient knowledge and capacity to exercise his/her right
- if the applicant has not been provided with legal aid on the basis of specific regulations
- if the submitted application is not manifestly unfounded and
- if the material circumstances of the applicant are such that the payment of professional legal aid could jeopardise the livelihood of the applicant and the members of his/her household.
Secondary legal aid provided by lawyers and exemption from paying litigation costs may be granted in the following types of proceedings:
- in connection with rights in rem, except for land registry procedures
- in connection with employment proceedings
- in connection with family relations, except in proceedings of divorce by mutual consent in which the spouses do not have minor children in common or adopted or children over whom they exercise parental authority after coming of age
- enforcement proceedings and security proceedings for enforcing or securing a claim arising from proceedings for which legal aid may be granted in accordance with the provisions of the Free Legal Aid Act
- amicable settlement of the dispute
- exceptionally, in all other administrative and civil court proceedings when such a need arises from the specific life circumstances of the applicant and the members of his/her household, and in accordance with the fundamental purpose of the Free Legal Aid Act.
Secondary legal aid provided by lawyers may be granted in the above proceedings under the following conditions:
- if the proceedings are of a more complex nature
- if the applicant cannot represent himself/herself
- if the material circumstances of the applicant are such that the payment of professional legal aid could jeopardise the livelihood of the applicant and the members of his/her household, in accordance with the specific conditions laid down in Article 14 of the Free Legal Aid Act
- if it is not a case of vexatious litigation
- if in the last six months from the day of submitting the application an application from the applicant has not been rejected due to intentional provision of incorrect information, and
- if the applicant has not been provided with legal aid on the basis of specific regulations.
Exemption from court fees may be granted in all court proceedings (civil proceedings and administrative disputes) if the applicant’s material circumstances are such that the payment of court fees could jeopardise the livelihood of the applicant and of the members of his/her household, subject to the special conditions set out in Article 14 of the Free Legal Aid Act. When a decision is made, special attention will be paid to the amount of court fees in the procedure in which exemption is requested.
5 Are there special procedures in cases of need?
The office must decide on an application for approval of secondary legal aid within 15 days from the day on which it was submitted. If the applicant loses the right to take the action for which he or she submitted the application due to expiration of the deadline, the office must decide on the application within a shorter period which allows the applicant to take the action in a timely manner.
6 Where can I obtain a legal aid application form?
The procedure for obtaining primary legal aid is initiated by directly contacting the provider of primary legal aid (authorised association, law clinic or office) and it is not necessary to fill in a specific application form.
The procedure for obtaining secondary legal aid is initiated by submitting a request for granting legal aid on the prescribed form to the competent office. The application form for legal aid can be obtained from the offices and on the websites of the offices and the Ministry of Justice.
Applications for legal aid in a cross-border dispute and applications for the transmission of applications for legal aid in a cross-border dispute are to be submitted on the forms prescribed by Commission Decision 2004/844/EC of 9 November 2004 establishing a form for legal aid applications under Council Directive 2003/8/EC to improve access to justice in cross-border disputes by establishing minimum common rules relating to legal aid for such disputes and Commission Decision 2005/630/EC of 26 August 2005 establishing a form for the transmission of legal aid applications under Council Directive 2003/8/EC, published in the Official Journal of the European Union.
Forms and all accompanying documents in a cross-border dispute must be submitted translated into Croatian. Otherwise, the request will be dismissed.
7 Which documents need to be submitted with the legal aid application form?
When an application is submitted to the competent office, it must be accompanied by the written consent of the applicant and the members of his or her household to allow access to all data on total income and assets, in which the applicant confirms that the information provided is accurate and complete.
Victims of domestic violence submit their consent to allow access to all data on income and property only for themselves. Consent is not submitted by those members of the household who participate in the proceedings as defendant or whose interest is contrary to the interest of the applicant.
The application form for legal aid in a cross-border dispute should be accompanied by the relevant documentation required to make a decision on the application.
8 Where do I submit my application for legal aid?
The procedure for obtaining primary legal aid is initiated by directly contacting a provider of primary legal aid (authorised association, law clinic or office), and there is no need to submit a specific application, while the procedure for obtaining secondary legal aid is initiated by submitting an application to the competent office in whose territory the applicant has his/her permanent address or where he/she usually resides.
An applicant who has his/her permanent address or usually resides in a Member State of the European Union and seeks legal aid in a cross-border dispute before a court in the Republic of Croatia must submit a legal aid application to the Ministry of Justice of the Republic of Croatia (receiving authority).
A party who has his/her permanent address or usually resides in the Republic of Croatia and who seeks legal aid in a cross-border dispute before a court of another Member State of the European Union, must submit his/her application to the office responsible for his/her place of permanent residence or usual residence.
9 How do I find out whether I am entitled to legal aid?
Secondary legal aid is granted to an applicant who meets the conditions for exercising the right to legal aid by issuing a decision on granting legal aid. An office must decide on an application within 15 days from the date on which it was submitted.
10 What should I do, if I am entitled to legal aid?
The decision on legal aid includes the right to use some or all forms of secondary legal aid for a procedure of a certain type and degree. The above mentioned decision contains the personal data of the beneficiary of legal aid, a brief description of the legal matter for which the legal aid was granted, the form and scope of the approved legal aid, data on the lawyer who will provide legal aid and other data relevant to the decision.
When the applicant submits an application for legal aid in the form of an exemption from court fees, he/she must inform the court in the submission, or when taking another action in the court proceedings, about the submitted application for exemption from court fees, and must submit the decision exempting him/her from paying court fees no later than six months from the day of filing the submission or from the date of taking another action in the proceedings before the court.
11 Who chooses my lawyer, if I am entitled to legal aid?
The decision granting secondary legal aid also determines the lawyer who will provide the beneficiary with legal aid. The beneficiary of legal aid must submit the decision to the lawyer specified in the decision. Exceptionally, the office will appoint another lawyer for the beneficiary with his/her prior consent attached to the application for legal aid
12 Does legal aid cover all the costs of the proceedings?
As stated above, the decision granting legal aid includes the right to use some or all forms of secondary legal aid for a procedure of a certain type and degree. Under the decision granting legal aid, the beneficiary may be fully or partially exempted from paying attorney’s fees, litigation costs (exemption from advance payment of costs of witnesses, interpreters, experts, investigations and court publications) and court fees.
Legal aid is granted in full if the applicant is a beneficiary of a support allowance in accordance with specific regulations governing the exercise of rights under the social welfare system, i.e. the right to benefits under the Act on the Rights of Croatian Homeland War Veterans and their Family Members and the Act on Protection of Military and Civilian Invalids of War or if the total income of the applicant and the members of his/her household does not exceed 50% of the monthly amount of the budgetary base per household member.
Any increase in the total income of the applicant and the members of his/her household above 50% of the budgetary base per household member results in a reduction in the amount of legal aid, in such a way that each increase of 10% results in a reduction in legal aid by 10% but the amount of the legal aid should not be less than 50% of the costs determined for legal aid.
If legal aid has not been granted in full, the applicant may lodge an appeal to the Ministry of Justice against the part of the decision refusing to grant legal aid. Such an appeal does not delay the use of the approved amount of legal aid. Administrative proceedings may be initiated against the decision of the Ministry of Justice rejecting the appeal.
13 Who bears the other costs, if I am entitled only to limited legal aid?
When a reduced amount of legal aid has been granted, the rest of the costs will be borne by the beneficiary of legal aid. In any event, if the beneficiary of legal aid wins the case, the court will decide that that party should be reimbursed for the costs of the proceedings by the other party.
14 Does legal aid also cover appeals?
An application for legal aid may request the granting of legal aid for both stages of civil proceedings. In order to prepare extraordinary legal remedies, it is necessary to submit a special application and a specific decision is issued for that legal action only.
15 Can legal aid be withdrawn before the proceedings are concluded (or even revoked after the proceedings have terminated)
If during the proceedings the financial situation of the beneficiary of legal aid and the members of his/her household improves to the extent that if this improved financial situation had existed at the time of application it would have affected the applicant’s right to legal aid and the scope of legal aid, the competent office will revoke the legal aid decision fully or partially. Beneficiaries of legal aid must inform the office about any improvement in their financial situation within eight days from the day on which it came to their knowledge. A beneficiary of legal aid may lodge an appeal with the Ministry of Justice against the decision revoking the decision granting legal aid within 15 days from the date of receipt of the decision. Administrative proceedings may be initiated against the decision of the Ministry of Justice.
16 Can I contest a refusal to give legal aid?
The applicant or beneficiary of legal aid may lodge an appeal against the decision of the office rejecting the application for legal aid or against the part of the decision refusing to grant legal aid in full within 15 days from the date of receipt of the decision. The Ministry of Justice must decide on an appeal within eight days from the date of receipt of a valid appeal. Administrative proceedings may be initiated against the decision of the Ministry of Justice.
Website of the Ministry of Justice: https://pravosudje.gov.hr/besplatna-pravna-pomoc/6184
Free Legal Aid Act (Narodne novine (NN; Official Gazette of the Republic of Croatia) Nos 143/13 and 98/19)
Civil Procedure Act (NN Nos 53/91, 91/92, 58/93, 112/99, 88/01, 117/03, 88/05, 02/07, 84/08, 96/08, 123/08, 57/11, 148/11- consolidated text, 25/13, 89/14, 70/19)
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