Free legal aid in immigration procedures

‘Legal aid’ refers to legal assistance provided by lawyers to persons free of charge to ensure they can effectively exercise their right to access justice. Immigration procedures are administrative procedures regulating third-country nationals’ entry into and residence in a Member State for reasons other than international protection (asylum and subsidiary protection).

Several EU directives provide for children’s right to legal assistance under certain circumstances – specifically, for child suspects/offenders and child victims. Setting conditions and procedural rules for a child to be entitled to legal aid (such as income requirements), however, lies within the powers of Member States.

For information on free legal aid for child suspects/offenders as well as child victims, see our interactive data explorer.

View full dataset in data explorer.

Key aspects

  • The majority of EU Member States set no minimum age: Belgium, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Denmark, Estonia, Germany, Greece, Finland, France, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom.
  • Income requirements apply in most Member States. Free legal aid is not dependent on income only in Belgium, Bulgaria, the Netherlands and Sweden.
  • Free legal aid is not provided in Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Lithuania, Romania and Slovenia. In Croatia, it is provided only for unaccompanied children. In Hungary, though, free legal aid without minimum age or income requirements is provided in cases concerning visas, residence permits and permanent settlement if the applicant is a descendent of a person who is or was a Hungarian citizen.
  • Only two Member States (Belgium and Bulgaria) provide free legal aid to children without income requirements in all kinds of cases/regardless of their role in a case (in immigration procedures, witness, plaintiff, asylum seeker, suspect/offender, victim).

Legal background

Legal aid is enshrined for “everyone” both in the Charter (Article 47) and the ECHR (Article 6). In the context of these instruments, legal aid is set out to help persons in judicial proceedings who do not have sufficient resources to pay for assistance and representation by a lawyer.

Regarding people in migration, Article 15 (2) of the Anti-Trafficking Directive and Article 20 (2) of the Directive on combating the sexual abuse and sexual exploitation of children and child pornography refer to legal representation of, and legal counselling for, child victims of trafficking in human beings or victims of sexual abuse. Specific provisions on legal aid for asylum seekers are also enshrined in Articles 20 and 21 of the Asylum Procedures Directive.

In all cases, however, setting other conditions or procedural rules for a child to be entitled to legal aid, such as income requirements, lies within the powers of EU Member States.