Does the state support me in legal proceedings?
Anyone may need to seek their rights at court or have to defend himself/herself against a charge at some point. However, litigation fees are quite high: if you lose, you have to pay your lawyer and court costs. In Germany, Legal aid ("Prozesskostenhilfe") has been established so that people with low income can also demand/defend their rights. "Prozzesskostenhilfe" is a government aid for people with limited income, i.e. the state assumes the costs of the lawyer and the court for certain legal proceedings to make sure no one is prevented from pursuing their rights in court because of substantial expenses.
What do I need to know?
You can receive legal aid if you meet the following requirements:
You cannot pay the costs of the legal proceedings, or you can only afford part of it. This can be the case, for instance, when you are eligible for state benefits such as Hartz IV, social benefits or asylum seeker benefits. If you earn an income, you must disclose your salary, assets, and expenses. The court then will decide whether you can afford the costs or are eligible for legal aid.
You have (at least) some chances of success in court. That means if it is clear from the very start that you will lose the case, you will not receive legal aid.
The legal process makes sense for you. That means if, for instance, the money you could end up winning is less than the costs of a lawsuit, you will not receive legal aid.
Please note: It does not matter whether you are the plaintiff or the defendant. If you meet the requirements above, you can benefit from legal aid.
Legal aid is available for legal proceedings before the following courts:
- Administrative court ("Verwaltungsgericht"): That is, for instance, if you want to complain about the BAMF's rejection of your asylum request.
- Civil court ("Zivilgericht"): That is where you go, for instance, when you need to resolve a dispute with a neighbour in court.
- Labor court ("Arbeitsgericht"): That is where you can complain against an employer who fired you.
- Social court ("Sozialgericht"): That is where you can, for instance, take legal actions against the decision to cut your welfare benefits.
Please note: If you are charged with a crime, you cannot receive legal aid. But if you do not have enough money, the state will pay for your lawyer. You cannot, however, choose a lawyer yourself-- the court will pick a lawyer for you.
If you lose the legal process, you can use legal aid to pay your lawyer and court costs. However, if you lose and your opponent had a lawyer, you will have to pay for their lawyer as well. This applies to all proceedings - except for proceedings before the labour court. In a labour court, you don't have to pay the opponent's lawyer if you lose.
If you win the lawsuit, your opponent will have to take over the costs of your lawyer and the court.
Please note: You are free to choose your lawyer. Who you pick to defend your rights is not determined by court.
You have to make an application. You can obtain the proper form directly from the court or find it on the website of the relevant court. To learn which court is responsible for your case, check gerichtsverzeichnis.de. If you need help filling out the form, a lawyer can help you. Alternatively, you can seek assistance from a Migration Counselling centre for adults or a Youth Migration Office. At bamf.de, you can find the proper Migration Counselling centre for adults. You can search for a Youth Migration Office in your area at jugendmigrationsdienste.de. The staff there speak several languages.
You can file a complaint ("Beschwerde") against the rejection within a month after you are notified of it. In the letter of rejection you receive, you can find more information about how to object the decision.
The court can review your financial situation up to four years later and send you the relevant forms. You must fill and return this form to the court, along with records of your income, assets, and expenses. If your financial situation improves significantly within these four years, the court can ask you to return what you've obtained as legal aid. In this case, you have to pay the legal aid back in instalments.
If you have little or no income and would like to seek advice from a lawyer first, you can apply for and receive a so-called "financial aid certificate for counselling" ("Beratungshilfeschein") from the local court responsible for the issue in question. To find the local court responsible, check gerichtsverzeichnis.de. The requirements of eligibility for "Beratungshilfeschein" are similar to those of the legal aid mentioned above.
With this document, you can seek advice from a lawyer of your choice. The district court then pays the lawyer. You only have to pay a maximum of 15 euros of the total costs personally.
Please note: You can seek advice on any legal matters.