Free legal aid for plaintiffs

‘Legal aid’ refers to legal assistance provided by a lawyer to a person free of charge to ensure the person can effectively exercise his or her right to access to justice. ‘Witnesses’, in this context, are persons asked to testify in court in criminal matters about their knowledge regarding the specific matters courts are adjudicating.

Several EU directives provide for children’s right to legal assistance under certain circumstances – specifically, for child suspects/offenders and child victims in criminal proceedings. Although EU legislation does not address the issue of child plaintiffs in civil matters, some Member States do provide for legal aid for them, as well. Setting the conditions and procedural rules for a child to be entitled to legal aid (such as income requirements) 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

  • Child plaintiffs enjoy free legal aid in all EU Member States. Such aid is, however, generally conditioned on income requirements.
  • No income requirements apply in Belgium, Bulgaria, the Netherlands, Romania and Sweden.
  • Only two Member States (Belgium and Bulgaria) provide free legal aid to children without income requirements, and regardless of their role in a case/the type of case (plaintiff, witness, asylum seeker, in immigration procedures, suspect/offender or victim).

Legal background

Legal aid is enshrined for “everyone” in both 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.