WE have been told many times to tighten our belts. With the novel coronavirus crisis raging on, even those who were never touched before by money woes are feeling the pinch. In this article, I explore 3 avenues available for free legal help when you need it.
- Public Assistance Legal Aid.
Here in Trinidad there are primarily two options available: a state funded Legal Aid and Advisory Authority (LAAA) and the Legal Aid Clinic at the Hugh Wooding Law School (HWLS Legal Aid Clinic).
The LAAA offers legal representation before the criminal and civil courts, filing applications in the Probate Division of the High Court for grants of representation of deceased citizens and legal advice. It also has the authority to send a matter for resolution by mediation, which it pays for. Note, the LAAA has the discretion to refuse legal aid if it forms the view that it is unreasonable for you to receive it.
For legal advice, a one-time payment in cash of $50 must be made and is good for legal advice on one matter over a three-month period. The LAAA requires a small contribution for High Court matters and Probate applications. However, in all matters, disbursement fees (photocopies, Commissioner’s fee etc.) and non-legal professional fees are paid by you.
To qualify for legal aid, you must not have or be entitled to “disposable capital” exceeding $20,000 in value and your “disposable income” must not exceed $36,000 a year.
In calculating your disposal capital, the LAAA does not include the subject matter of the court matter, your clothing, your tools of trade (work tools), your household furniture or your home if the assessed annual value does not exceed $150. In calculating your disposable income, the LAAA will consider your income as well as that of your spouse, if any, but will exclude from their consideration the following: $2,400/year for each dependant (up to a limit of $7,200); $4,320 for you; rent (not exceeding $9,600/year); contributions being made to the National Insurance Board (NIB); any income tax payments; old age and NIB pensions; public assistance benefits and disability grants.
The LAAA’s head office is located on the First and Third Floors, TTMA Building, No 42 Tenth Avenue Barataria, telephone no 638-5222. They have branches in Arima, Couva, San Fernando, Chaguanas and Tobago. For more information, you can visit their Website: https://laaa.org.tt/ or email them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Similar to the LAAA, the HWLS Legal Aid Clinic also offers free legal help if you have limited means, but may ask you to pay small sums for disbursements. The work of the clinic is performed by the law students themselves, under the training and supervision of Attorneys/tutors employed by the school. The HWLS Legal Aid Clinic is located at 100-114 Gordon Street, St. Augustine, Tunapuna, 331314. They can be reached at telephone no. 235-4960, or emailed at email@example.com.
Many Attorneys give back to society by doing matters pro bono (free). There is no obligation on them to do pro bono work, so whether or not they agree to it will be entirely at their discretion. Issues such as their work load, the seriousness/urgency of your matter, size of their practice, area of skill and likelihood of success may all be relevant considerations. Be upfront with your Attorney on your financial constraints, and do not hesitate to ask if they can make any concessions on your behalf. If the lawyer is unable do the matter pro bono, if you can pay in instalments over a period of time, ask your Attorney if they will accept this.
Depending on the type of matter you have, there may be an option to ask your Attorney for a contingency fee type arrangement (the lawyer gets paid only if the case is won). However, this will be discussed more in dept in a future article.
- Self Help
Self-representation is permitted in every court, but is more often seen at the Magistrate’s Court. There are some resources available to help you represent yourself in legal matters, such as law books available at the National Libraries and online tips and discussions.
Unless the issue is a simple one, you would likely be doing yourself a disservice by representing yourself. Remember that popular quote: “A man who is his own lawyer has a fool for a client”?
You may not be able to view the matter objectively enough to be able to treat with your case effectively. Every right needs to be exercised responsibly, and so is weighing the right to represent yourself against the maturity of this decision.
Copyright © 2020 Neela Ramsundar, LL.B (HONS), L.E.C Civil Litigation Attorney at Law & Certified Mediator.
Disclaimer: The contents of this article are for general informative purposes only. It does not provide legal advice and does not create an attorney-client relationship with any reader. For legal advice on your specific situation, please contact an Attorney-at-Law of your choosing directly. Liability for any loss or damage of any kind whatsoever allegedly incurred a consequence of using content in this article is thus hereby excluded to the fullest extent permitted by law.